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What happens inside my body during a panic attack?

ANSWER

Panic attacks are episodes of extreme fear often happen without warning. Your body’s “fight or flight” response triggers intense symptoms. Your nervous system springs into action. The hormone adrenaline floods into your bloodstream, putting your body on high alert. Your heartbeat quickens, which sends more blood to your muscles. Your breathing becomes fast and shallow, so you can take in more oxygen. Your blood sugar spikes. Your senses get sharper.

All of these changes -- which happen in an instant -- give you the energy you need to confront a dangerous situation or get out of harm’s way quickly.

With random panic attacks, your body goes on alert for no reason.

SOURCES:

Harvard Health Publications: “Understanding the Stress Response.”

Robertson, D. , Elsevier Academic Press, 2004. Primer on the Autonomic Nervous System, Second Edition

The BMJ : “Panic Disorder.”

Biological Psychiatry : “Do Unexpected Panic Attacks Occur Spontaneously?” “Functional t1ρ Imaging in Panic Disorder.”

Psychological Medicine : “Distinct Phasic and Sustained Brain Responses and Connectivity of Amygdala and Bed Nucleus of the Stria Terminalis During Threat Anticipation in Panic Disorder.”

The Journal of Neuroscience: “Reduced Serotonin Type 1A Receptor Binding in Panic Disorder.”

Mayo Clinic: “Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder.”

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Panic Disorder.”

Centre for Clinical Interventions (Government of Western Australia): “Panic Stations.”

National Institute of Mental Health: “Anxiety Disorders.”

Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari on June 15, 2017

SOURCES:

Harvard Health Publications: “Understanding the Stress Response.”

Robertson, D. , Elsevier Academic Press, 2004. Primer on the Autonomic Nervous System, Second Edition

The BMJ : “Panic Disorder.”

Biological Psychiatry : “Do Unexpected Panic Attacks Occur Spontaneously?” “Functional t1ρ Imaging in Panic Disorder.”

Psychological Medicine : “Distinct Phasic and Sustained Brain Responses and Connectivity of Amygdala and Bed Nucleus of the Stria Terminalis During Threat Anticipation in Panic Disorder.”

The Journal of Neuroscience: “Reduced Serotonin Type 1A Receptor Binding in Panic Disorder.”

Mayo Clinic: “Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder.”

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Panic Disorder.”

Centre for Clinical Interventions (Government of Western Australia): “Panic Stations.”

National Institute of Mental Health: “Anxiety Disorders.”

Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari on June 15, 2017

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Are there warning signs of panic attacks?

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