Panic Attacks

A panic attack is defined as a sudden rush of intense fear or dread, which usually goes along with several of the following physical symptoms and thoughts: shortness of breath or smothering feelings, dizziness, feeling faint or unsteady, racing or pounding heart, trembling or shaking, sweating, choking sensation, nausea or abdominal distress, feelings of being detached or of things seeming unreal, numbness or tingling sensations, hot flashes or cold chills, chest pain or discomfort. Individuals with Panic Disorder often fear that their panic attacks might cause them to have a heart attack or stroke, to go crazy, or to lose control.


Panic attacks include the following features:


  • the suddenness with which fear is experienced—panic attacks usually occur and peak in a very short time (1 to 10 minutes), and the peak lasts on average only 5 to 10 minutes. This makes it very different from other types of worry;

  • the strong urge to escape and reach safety (also known as the fight-or-flight response);

  • the attack occurs “out of the blue,” with no obvious outside cause. Over time, however, most attacks become connected with specific situations (such as being in a crowed movie theater, or traveling long distances from home).


Panic disorder is distinguished from other anxiety disorder by the unexpected nature of the alarm reactions as well as the continuing anxiety about their return.