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Panic Attacks

What are panic attacks?

Panic attacks are a symptom of panic disorder, where you are having regular and recurring panic attacks often for no apparent reason. A panic attack occurs when your body experiences a rush of intense psychological and physical symptoms. You may experience an overwhelming sense of fear, apprehension and anxiety. You might also experience physical symptoms such as:

  • Nausea
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Sensation that your heart is beating irregularly (palpitations)
  • Hot flushes
  • Shortness of breath/choking sensation
  • Chest pain
  • Numbness or pins and needles
  • Feeling of dread or fear of dying
  • Tingling sensation in your fingers
  • Terror

The physical symptoms of a panic attack can be extremely unpleasant and can be accompanied by very intense fear. Usually after a person begins to experience panic attacks they become very fearful in anticipation of the next panic attack, which creates a cycle of anticipatory anxiety and adds to the sense of panic. Sometimes the symptoms of a panic attack can be so intense that you might feel like you are having a heart attack. Most panic attacks last between 5 to 20 minutes. Some people might have panic attacks once or twice a month whilst others might experience them several times a week. During a panic attack some people might even experience ‘depersonalisation’, which is a sense of being really detached from the situation, your body and your surroundings.

Treatment for panic attacks

The most effective treatment for panic attacks is cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). For some people this is a short term intervention whereas others might need up to 14 sessions of CBT. Some forms of medication such as anti-depressants can also be used for the treatment of panic attacks. At The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, our psychologists are experienced in CBT and the treatment of panic attacks. If you would like to consider psychotropic medication for management of your symptoms you can have a review with our Consultant Psychiatrist.