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Understanding Panic Attack -- Symptoms

What Are the Symptoms of a Panic Attack?

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
  • Heart palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • A "smothering" sensation or shortness of breath
  • A feeling of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • A sense of unreality
  • A fear of going crazy or losing control
  • A fear of dying
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Chills or hot flashes

An isolated panic attack, while extremely unpleasant, is not uncommon or life-threatening. Panic disorder and panic attacks are not the same thing; panic disorder refers to repeat panic attacks along with worry and concern about having repeat attacks. Panic attacks can be a symptom of other anxiety disorders as well.

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The Truth About Phobias

Weddings are generally joyous occasions, but not so for Marissa Wolicki, 25, of Toronto, Canada, who reluctantly attended one recently with her boyfriend. "All of a sudden, the room started to spin. I started to feel really nauseated. My heart went pound-pound-pound-pound. I grabbed my boyfriend's hand and said we had to go. He said, 'We can't go. We're in the middle of a wedding!' He started getting mad at me. People who don't have these attacks don't understand. My legs started to shake. I had...

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You may think you're having a heart attack, and it's true that some of the symptoms can be similar. However, most people having a panic attack have had one before, triggered by a similar event or situation.

The chest pain of a panic attack usually stays in the mid-chest area (the pain of a heart attack commonly moves toward the left arm or jaw). You may also have rapid breathing, rapid heartbeat, and fear. A panic attack usually lasts only a few minutes, comes suddenly and disappears suddenly, but leaves you exhausted.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on February 27, 2015

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