Symptoms and signs of panic attacks

Updated 2 years ago on April 03, 2023

The main symptoms of panic attacks are recurrent attacks of severe anxiety, unpredictable in nature, independent of the situation or circumstances. Typically, a panic attack attack is accompanied by palpitations and chest pains, up to and including fear of dying from cardiac arrest, shortness of breath, nausea, depersonalization and derealization, fear of losing control over oneself and going insane.

A distinction should be made between the signs of panic attacks and attacks of ordinary anxiety. Anxiety is a negatively colored emotion, an uncertain premonition in relation to the nature of expected events. The reasons for anxiety, unlike specific fears, are not objective. In other words, anxiety helps avoid potentially undesirable situations and their consequences. It becomes the reason for action, which determines a favorable vector of events in the situation causing anxiety.

As for a panic attack, it is a suddenly occurring, gratuitous attack of pronounced anxiety accompanied by fear and various somatic symptoms. In other words, the clinical signs of panic attacks must necessarily be accompanied by a type of anxiety in which the cause of the fear cannot be identified. The nature of such anxiety cannot be explained by the person himself even at the peak - except by fear for his own life and sanity.

Symptoms and signs of panic attacks

In the clinical picture of the disease, the leading symptoms and signs of panic attacks are severe irrationalized fear, disorders of the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, and other phenomena of autonomic nature. As a rule, an attack occurs instantly and lasts about 15-30 minutes.

The frequency of panic attacks varies from moderate to severe. Moderate episodic paroxysmal anxiety corresponds to 4 attacks in 28 days; severe to at least 4 attacks in 7 days in a month.

Typically, the individual seizure pattern includes the following symptoms and signs of panic attacks:

  • rapid heartbeat;
  • discomfort in the chest;
  • tingling in the heart area;
  • rise in blood pressure;
  • a feeling of lack of air;
  • difficult breathing;
  • dizziness;
  • sweating;
  • "waves" of heat and cold;
  • nausea;
  • diarrhea (sometimes).

Objectively, during an attack, the surrounding people may register a change in the color of the skin, sweating, a rise in BP, high pulse rate, difficulties with coordination of movements, and tremors. However, both the person himself and people around him usually mistake the symptoms of panic attacks for signs of heart attack or stroke (especially at the debut - the first attack of PA).

In some cases, with weak mental constitution (low threshold of resistance to stressors), a strong panic attack can lead to loss of consciousness. At repeated attacks of PA, anticipation anxiety develops rather quickly, expanding the spectrum of negative experiences by fear of waiting for an attack. In addition, agoraphobia and restrictive behavior may occur in the clinical picture.

Symptoms of panic attacks in women

Clinical practice shows that episodic paroxysmal anxiety is more susceptible to women than to men. Symptoms of panic attacks in women do not differ much from the signs of the "male" variant of the course of the disease. However, they do affect the health and adjust the life of an adult woman.

The main symptoms of panic attacks in women include:

  • menstrual disorders;
  • other endocrine disorders affecting reproductive function;
  • increased risk of developing neurotic and depressive disorders;
  • alcoholism of the female type.

In addition, the development of the disease can cause impaired functioning of the woman in the family, up to the risk of divorce proceedings. Indirectly, the disease inevitably affects both the man and the children, becoming the cause of "secondary" psychopathology, including mental development disorders in children.

Symptoms of panic attacks in men

Symptoms of panic attacks in men can dramatically change a person's life, disguising the disease as character traits, lifestyle, unusual creeds. Outside of marriage, it is quite difficult for such a man to maintain relationships; in marriage, to preserve the family or the relationship in it, to create favorable conditions for the upbringing of children, the healthy development of their mental apparatus.

Typical symptoms of panic attacks in men that affect quality of life include:

  • problems with potency;
  • risk of developing severe depression with suicidal tendencies;
  • rapid alcoholization.

If depressive tendencies dominate in the disease picture, alcoholism quickly develops, and the risk of suicidal tendencies arises with a high probability. The majority of successful suicide attempts against the background of the disease are noted precisely in men.

Symptoms of panic attacks in adolescents and children

As a rule, pronounced symptoms of panic attacks in adolescents can be detected between the ages of 7 and 10. First of all, they manifest themselves in an unusual deterioration of well-being in children, a decrease in mood and activity. Within an educational institution, such a child may become a victim of bullying or violence from classmates, fall behind in academic performance, and withdraw into himself or herself.

Symptoms of panic attacks in adolescents that occur against a background of increased anxiety or anxiety attacks include:

  • decrease in tone;
  • rapid fatigue;
  • frequent headaches;
  • Gastrointestinal disorders;
  • increased sweating;
  • rapid heartbeat;
  • pain in the heart area;
  • shortness of breath.

Unfortunately, the symptoms of panic attacks in children are not detected at the right time. Parents may search for a long time for the true cause of their child's deteriorating condition, visiting doctors of various specializations year after year, ignoring the treatment of panic attacks by a child's psychiatrist or neuropsychologist. However, having learned to cope with attacks of PA, such a child becomes "adapted" only outwardly, retaining the psychopathology in potency. Having entered adulthood, such children have a high probability of relapse of the disease and, consequently, of its development.

Types of panic attacks

Panic attacks are individual in nature. They differ according to the symptoms and conditions predominating in the clinical picture. Conventionally, attacks are divided into six types, unfolding as the disease progresses (from symptomatically poor attacks to extensive phobic avoidance with secondary depression):

  • typical - vegetative disorders prevail, undifferentiated phobias;
  • phobic - the picture of vegetative disorders is dominated by subjective fears arising in situations dangerous only in the opinion of the person suffering from PA;
  • affective - strong depressive tendencies, morbidly low mood, negative irritability are observed;
  • Senestopathic - unpleasant and frightening somatic sensations of unknown character (the person cannot specifically describe a painful condition) are emphasized;
  • hyperventilation - pronounced breathing disorders are present (rapid and/or deep breathing, apnea attacks, paresthesias and muscle pain);
  • Hysterical tendencies and dreamlike reactions dominate, and panic is expressed insignificantly or is absent at all;
  • depersonalization-depersonalization - feelings of unreality of the world around and a person's perception of himself/herself come to the fore.

Nocturnal panic attacks are different from nightmares and are not associated with images that appear in dreams in the second half of the night, during the fast asleep phase, which is the kind of dream a person remembers. Their occurrence, as a rule, is observed in the first half of the night, from 12 to 4 am. Similar to the "daytime" version, panic attacks at night are characterized by a sudden attack of intense fear for life (fear of respiratory or cardiac arrest) or unbearable anxiety.

Risk factors for the development of symptoms and signs of PA

There are risk factors that precede the onset of panic attacks. These include a person's mental constitution with an emphasis on general negative affectivity - with a tendency to "get stuck" in negative emotions, to give a negative assessment of practically everything that happens in life. Childhood, the nature of relations between parents and the style of upbringing play an important role in the formation of such a view of life.

The "genetic" factor and the symptoms of PA

The occurrence of panic attack symptoms is influenced by growing up in an unfavorable family environment, where the child witnesses arguments and violent conflicts between parents. Psychological and physical abuse in childhood, including sexual abuse, is also a risk factor for the development of panic attack symptoms. This also includes such strong stressors as parental abandonment, deprivation of parental rights, and their premature death.

Emotional deprivation of the child with a significant person (son - mother, daughter - father), who provides a sense of security, is the cause of dissonance between sensual and emotional experience. A true sign of such a situation in the family is hyperprotection, which cannot replace love for the child. Upbringing in such a family creates preconditions for the development of panic attack symptoms by, for example, displacing the anxiety state, which includes the fear of being abandoned and, consequently, of dying, and the lack of understanding of its (fear's) true causes (unconscious constant anxiety is the norm for such a person).

Clinical statistics also point to a "genetic" factor in the appearance of panic attack signs. For example, in children whose mothers suffered from PA, the risk of developing the disease increases many times over. It should be understood that the genetic factor here refers not only to the possibility of inheriting psychopathology, but also to its acquisition as a child copying the "anxious response", or a combination of both. In particular, if parents suffer from affective disorders (e.g., anxiety, depression, BAR), there is also a probability of the child developing the symptoms and signs of panic attacks.

The "social" factor and signs of PA

Among the risk factors that provoke the development of symptoms of panic attacks in adulthood are lifestyle and traumatic events that negatively affect a person's mental health:

  • active smoking;
  • alcohol abuse;
  • drug use;
  • side effects of medications;
  • surgical intervention under general anesthesia;
  • a life of constant stress;
  • interpersonal, family conflicts;
  • divorce, other difficult life situations;
  • chronic somatic diseases;
  • being in a zone of military conflict;
  • being in an area of man-made and natural disasters;
  • the death of a loved one.

Among somatic diseases, the presence of which potentiates the risk of panic attack symptoms are bronchial asthma, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, arrhythmia, angina pectoris, hypertension, mitral valve prolapse, hypo- and hyperthyroidism, epilepsy, somatoform disorders, OCD, PTSD.

Telehealth is Easy!

Safe, secure video platform for people who need immediate emotional or psychiatric support. 👍

Visits are always HIPAA compliant and can be done almost anywhere.