What Happens To The Body During A Panic Attack?

Was what you had really a panic attack? That’s the question. It felt like so much more. So physical! How could it be only in your head? So what are the panic attack symptoms? First, the symptoms don’t exist in a void. They are a part of a person’s experience.

Cardiovascular Effects

When we get anxious the sympathetic nervous system causes the release of adrenalin to prepare us for fight or flight. This will result in an increased our heart rate and blood flow within the body but also restricts where the blood is sent to. Our major muscles such as the thigh muscles and biceps receive extra blood to prepare them for action. The extremities receive less which can result in a tingling sensation or pins and needles. Many people experience numbness and tingling during a panic attack often making them worry that they are about to have a heart attack. This worry is unfounded.

Respiratory Effects

You can also get a feeling of suffocating as the chest and throat tighten up. Your breath has become faster and deeper to increase oxygen levels in readiness for fight or flight. If the extra oxygen is not used it can lead you gasping for breath. This is simply because our breathing is automatically triggered by the level of carbon dioxide. Until we generate more carbon dioxide you can be left feeling that it is difficult to breath, one of the reasons why breathing into a paper bag works. You recycle the same breath; rebalance the carbon dioxide levels and revert to normal breathing.

The signs and symptoms of a panic attack develop abruptly and usually reach their peak within 10 minutes. Most panic attacks end within 20 to 30 minutes, and they rarely last more than an hour.

A full-blown panic attack includes a combination of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath or hyperventilation
  • Heart palpitations or a racing heart
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Choking feeling
  • Feeling unreal or detached from your surroundings
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Feeling dizzy, light-headed, or faint
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Fear of dying, losing control, or going crazy
Panic attacks cannot be predicted. At least in the early stages of the disorder, there is no trigger that starts the attack. Recalling a past attack may trigger panic attacks.

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