Saturday, January 1, 2011

Diagnosis: Panic Attack, what do you do now?

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After an unusually busy day at work trying to play "catch up" on overdue paperwork, your boss storms in and accuses of not taking your job seriously.  After counting to ten twice, you proceed to give him the verbal beating that he's been asking for all month.  Several hours later, you begin to feel sweaty, short of breath with some vague chest pain. A co-worker rushes you over to the closest ED where you spend the next ten hours waiting for a diagnosis. After clearing all tests with flying colors, you find that the diagnosis is, panic attack.

What is panic attack? What brings it on and what can you do to live with it?  We will investigate those answers in this article.

What are panic attacks?

According to the definition,  panic attacks are "a sudden episode of intense fear for no apparent reason which triggers some physical reactions.  Panic attack can be so intense that it can cause a plethora of symptoms: a pounding heart, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, flushness and chest pain." Symptoms can be so severe that the patient lives in constant fear of having another attack.  This is why immediate medical evaluation is imperative.  Panic attacks often  appear without warning or they may be associated with an event.  They may last anywhere from 10 minutes to one-half hour.

What are the causes?

Many causes as to the reason for panic attacks have speculated upon which  include:

Changes in brain function

Unfortunately, there are no sure answers.  Until recently, most doctors looked at the ailment merely are  a case of nerves.  With the increased  number of cases being diagnosed however, doctors are taking a different viewpoint and have labeled those who suffer frequently with this problem as sufferers of panic disorder.

What are the risk factors?

Symptoms of panic disorder cam occur as early as late adolescence or early adulthood.  The problem affects more women than men.

Increased risk factors include:

Family history
Significant stress
Death or illness of a loved one
physical or sexual abuse
A traumatic event

Diagnosis and treatment

It is necessary to follow up iwth the primary healthcare provider for a complete physical which will include labwork, EKG and probably a series of mental health questions.  Also, the patient may be referred to a psychiatrist.

Once the diagnosis is made, the patient may be placed on medication which might include an antidepressant, benzodiazepines or mild sedatives.  Supportive treatment may also include counseling, support groups, stress management, exercise, Behavioral therapy, relaxation techniques and inositol, if the doctor is taking a more non-traditional approach.

The patient might also refrain from certain substances such as: caffeine, alcohol and drugs.


"Panic attack" by Mayo Clinic Staff
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