It is common for people to mistake symptoms of a panic attack as symptoms of heart attack. The National Institute of Mental Health notes that many people with panic attacks make repeated trips to the emergency room prior to being informed their symptoms are due to panic attacks and not cardiac-related concerns . Even with the knowledge and awareness that panic attacks often mimic symptoms of heart attacks some people, who have not received treatment for their panic attacks, still rush to the emergency room due to their high levels of anxiety when a panic attack strikes. For an educational article on panic attacks versus heart attacks, published by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, please click here.
Panic attacks are accompanied by physiological, cognitive, and emotional reactions. Another aspect closely related to panic attacks is that the individual develops a fear of having future panic attacks. Common symptoms of panic attacks include the follow:
– Shortness of breath
– Chest pain/palpitations
– Feels like you are choking
– Feeling detached from your surroundings
– Fear of losing control
– Fear of going crazy
– Fear you are going to die
While panic attacks are highly unpleasant it is important to understand that they are not dangerous. The intensity and discomfort associated with panic attacks often leads people to avoid situations that may trigger them. This approach, while in the short-term may be effective for keeping one’s anxiety about panic attacks and actual panic attacks at bay, in the long run it serves to limit one’s daily experiences and quality of life. Treatment strategies are geared toward helping the individual learn to identify the unhelpful thinking patterns associated with panic attacks, such as “I can’t handle panic attacks” or “panic attacks must be avoided at all costs.” Additionally, exposures to anxiety provoking places and situations are an integral aspect of treatment. Interoceptive exposures are designed to help individuals become less afraid of and to habituate to the physical symptoms (e.g., racing heart, chest pain, dizziness) associated with panic attacks. Successful treatment aims to reduce the frequency of panic attacks while also reducing avoidant behaviors, and instilling effective coping strategies within the individual to assist with future stressful situations.