Panic attacks - causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

Updated 12 months ago on April 03, 2023


Panic attacks are characterized by symptoms similar to the signs of somatic diseases when the examination reveals the absence of these diseases:

  • tachycardia - rapid heartbeat;
  • increased sweating;
  • gait disturbance;
  • chills or hot flashes;
  • Tremors (trembling) of limbs and other body parts;
  • Shortness of breath, shortness of breath up to asphyxia;
  • numbness and tingling in the hands and feet;
  • high blood pressure;
  • pain in the left side of the chest, abdomen;
  • intestinal disorders - constipation, diarrhea;
  • increased frequency of urination;
  • nausea, urge to vomit;
  • sensation of a foreign body in the throat, difficult swallowing;
  • decreased hearing, vision;
  • dizziness;
  • fainting state.

In most cases, panic attacks are accompanied by psychiatric symptoms of psychological pathologies, behavioral and cognitive disorders:

  • a sense of unreality;
  • alienation from one's own mental processes;
  • disorientation, confusion;
  • Insomnia or sleep with interruptions, nightmares.

The time of an attack is individual and can last from 15 minutes to several hours in severe forms of the disorder. The same applies to frequency - from once a month to 2-3 attacks daily.

Situations that the person suffering a panic attack considers life- or health-threatening can trigger an attack: large crowds of people, rides in crowded public transportation, public speaking, confined or open spaces. Signs of a panic attack also occur without an obvious stressful motive.

In a person's mind, places of stay are associated with the occurrence of an attack (as a cause-and-effect relationship). As a result, being in the same situation provokes panic. It goes so far that the person subjected to panic attacks begins to avoid places and situations that he or she thinks are causing the attack. This development of the anxiety state can lead to phobic disorders with reactive depression.

A panic attack attack is necessarily accompanied by an overwhelming sense of acute, excruciating fear. If somatic symptoms prevail over the psychological component of the attack, a neurologist in cooperation with a psychologist can solve the problem. The presence of emotional and psychological manifestations in the foreground is a valid reason to consult a psychiatrist or psychotherapist.

Causes of occurrence

The etiology of the disorder is not uniquely elucidated, there are a number of theories about its causes, but the factors that provoke a panic attack have been identified:

  • genetic predisposition;
  • unfavorable family environment during childhood;
  • Excessive criticism and demanding parents;
  • temperament;
  • Characteristics of personality: vulnerability, fixation on troubles and worries, hypochondria;
  • stresses based on negative and positive life events;
  • chronic somatic diseases, disability, recovery from a serious illness, post-operative period;
  • borderline mental states.

Panic attacks can have different causes, the combination of several motives at once increases the likelihood of the disorder, and refusal to treat with a psychiatrist or psychotherapist increases its progression. Against the background of panic attacks depression develops, which some people fight with self-medication with tranquilizers or alcohol, starting a new round of fears and phobias on the background of alcohol and medication dependence.


Even rare panic attacks require immediate treatment. Medicine uses both traditional and the most advanced methods of getting rid of this disorder.


The most effective way to treat panic attacks is through psychotherapeutic techniques:

  • cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy, which explains the real cause of the mechanism that triggers panic, reduces and then eliminates gratuitous anxiety, fear of death and panic symptoms.


Pharmacological remedies in the treatment of panic attacks are used in complicated cases of the disorder when it is necessary to urgently treat the symptoms that occur during an attack.

For this purpose antidepressants are used for a treatment course of 3-6 months and tranquilizers for short periods to avoid addiction. B vitamins are used as a general tonic for the nervous system.

The combination of psychotherapeutic and medical treatment produce a stable therapeutic effect.

Psychotherapy. Individual and effective

Signs of a panic attack are a serious reason to seek help from specialists.

Usually, psychotherapy rooms have all the conditions for creating a trusting relationship in a comfortable environment. Individual work with each patient is carried out with the selection of techniques and methods shown according to the profile of the disease, personality characteristics, genetic features, etc. In this connection, it is impossible to describe the treatment procedure for panic attacks in detail; only general principles can be outlined:

  • First appointment - aimed at creating a relationship of trust, since the success of treatment depends on the sincerity of the patient, as well as the diagnosis of mental disorders and psychological problems;
  • analysis of anamnesis, as well as information obtained non-verbally - based on psychological testing and laboratory examinations;
  • development of a treatment regimen individually for each patient, using methods of mental influence, medication and other means.

During treatment, effective techniques and methods are usually used: rational psychotherapy, classical hypnosis, meditative breathing techniques, client-centered therapy using the C. Rogers method, cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy, Socratic dialogue techniques, etc.

Remember that any data obtained during examination and treatment are confidential and are not to be shared with others in any way.

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