Symptoms and signs of panic attacks

If you suffer from the symptoms of a panic attack it can be a very frightening experience, particularly if it’s the first time that you have ever had an attack. Panic attacks can be triggered by a variety of events and situation – however they are treatable over time with a variety of therapies.

Read more about panic attack causes.

Have I had a panic attack?

A panic attack is an immediate rush of physical symptoms, for example muscle spasms, nausea and shortness of breath coupled with uncontrollable anxiety and sometimes a sense of feeling trapped. 

The following symptoms are most common if you think that you may be having a panic attack:

  • Feeling faint, dizzy or light headed  during a tense situation or when analysing something in your life
  • Feeling nauseous when placed in a nerve wracking position for example public speaking.
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Chest pains and shortness of breath - a tightness of the chest and feeling as though it’s a struggle to breathe
  • Palpitations
  • Fluctuating body temperature
  • Hyperventilating in some instances - have you ever passed out as a result of a situation?
  • Numbness and tingling, for example, tingling of the lips and numbness in fingers and toes. This is common as a result of a panic attack
  • A feeling of being out of control / depersonalisation

How to spot panic disorder

If you think that a relative or friend is suffering from panic attacks, it’s important to understand and identify the common symptoms that people can display when they are worrying about their next attack.

Look out for feelings of anxiety, a lack of control and intense worry about when the next attack will happen. It is often the case that the person suffering from panic attacks will withdraw themselves from social situations, in order to try and hide their condition and reduce the chances of a panic attack occurring. This social isolation will not help the person in the long run, so gently approach your friend or relative to discuss the issue. It may be the case that there is an underlying issue such as depression or anxiety that is causing the attacks.

Common emotional symptoms related to panic attacks

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack or increase of appetite
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Social isolation
  • Lack or increase of sleep
  • Paranoia

Re-occurrence of panic attacks

A big part of recognising panic attack symptoms is how often they are occurring and if there is a pattern in triggers.The frequency with which panic attacks occur can vary. For some people, attacks happen once or twice a month, whereas others might experience them several times a week.
If your friend or relative is experiencing regular panic attacks, sensitively look for a common situation where these signs are occurring.

Post-attack events

Visits to accident and emergency departments, as well as late night phone calls to doctors can be common as a result of a panic attack. However, any test results will often reveal that nothing is wrong, which can be very frustrating. A sense of hopelessness and confusion are also common as panic attacks may be unexplained. If you’re a friend or relative, it’s important to try and make the person understand the situation and help them to deal with the panic attacks.

7 tips for dealing with panic attacks

  1. Understand the symptoms attached to the panic attacks that you are experiencing. This will help you to recognise any patterns in behaviour and avoid certain situations where the feeling of panic may occur.
  2. Know your triggers and remove any negativity, stress or pressure which may be adding to the situation.
  3. Accept a panic attack for what it is and the symptoms will be greatly reduced.
  4. Realise that you are not alone – panic attacks are incredibly common for all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds.
  5. Speak to friends and relatives about your problem; this will reduce any further stress as people close to you will be wondering what is wrong. Also, it is very likely that you will receive great support and understanding from your friends and relatives.
  6. Make sure that you are getting plenty of sleep and are eating well. Try to avoid ‘junk food’ and alcohol.
  7. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to ‘get over it’. These things take time to understand and conquer.

For further information on the treatments available for panic attacks, then please call: 0845 277 4679.