A first panic attack often starts without warning during an
ordinary activity such as shopping or walking down the street.
You may become
confused and think you are "going crazy." You may feel like something terrible is going to
You may feel a strong need to leave the area and go to a place that
feels safe, such as your car or home.
You may also have physical symptoms
such as shortness of breath, a pounding heart, or chest pain. It is common to think that you are
having a heart attack and to seek treatment in a hospital emergency
The intensity of
these symptoms usually peaks within 10 minutes.
If you have the sudden onset of four or more of the following symptoms, you may be having a panic attack:
Sudden high anxiety with or without a cause
A "smothering" sensation or shortness of breath
A feeling of choking
Chest pain or discomfort
Dizziness or faintness
A sense of unreality
A fear of going crazy or losing control
A fear of dying
Numbness or tingling
For many people, the first panic attack may occur a stressful time. It may happen during a life-threatening illness or accident, the
loss of a relationship, or separation from family. A woman may have her first panic
attack after she gives birth.
It is also possible for a
first panic attack to be caused by a drug reaction or a reaction to
nicotine or caffeine. But after the situation that caused the first panic
attack is resolved, attacks may continue.
trouble relating to other people in social settings because of intense feelings
panic attacks can be mild to severe. They may continue for
years, especially if you also have
agoraphobia (avoiding places where you fear another
attack will occur). You may have long periods of time
without panic attacks. And you may have other periods of time when attacks occur
Panic disorder may last a
lifetime, but its symptoms can be controlled with treatment. Most people who have
panic disorder get better with treatment. They are able to get back to a normal
lifestyle. But relapse can occur, especially if treatment is stopped
In this article
This information is produced and provided by the National
Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National
Institute via the Internet web site at http://
.gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
May 17, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor.
Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this