"I Think I'm Dying"Many people, who end up in the ER or their primary care physician's office complaining that they feel like they're having a heart attack or dying, are actually having a panic attack. They report having sudden racing heart, shortness of breath, tingling hands, and intense fear. Understandably so, patients go to their doctor to find out what is wrong. After medical tests come back with normal results, the doctor comes in and explains, "You're experiencing a form of anxiety called a panic attack." While this provides some relief to know that they aren't dying, it might leave patients wondering, "What do I do about it?" In some cases, a panic attack may be an isolated incident. In other situations, people find themselves in a pattern of frequent panic attacks and begin worrying about when the next one will unexpectedly occur.
Signs and Symptoms of Panic Attack
- Palpitations or increased heart rate
- Shortness of breath; sensation that one cannot get a deep enough breath
- Chest pain
- Nausea; stomach upset
- Dizziness; feeling lightheaded or faint
- Feeling out of one's body
- Fear of losing control
- Fear of dying
- Numbness or tingling (in hands, feet, face)
- Hot flushes; chills
The symptoms listed above are generally considered to be typical experiences during a panic attack. Individuals may have only some or all of the symptoms.
The first step is to have a full medical evaluation to eliminate possible causes related to cardiac, pulmonary, endocrine, or other medical concerns. Panic attacks do not have to interfere with day to day functioning. Here are some things you might want to try on your own:
- Eliminate nicotine, caffeine, alcohol
- Relaxation techniques: deep, slow breathing; yoga; meditation
- Eliminate / manage stressors
- Adequate sleep
If you try the above techniques but still experience significant anxiety and panic attacks, it is advisable to seek help from a professional, such as a psychiatrist or therapist. Psychotherapy and/or medications are often very beneficial. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 4.7% of adults meet criteria for panic disorder in their lifetime.
Dr. Shannon Sniff, M.D., is a Board Certified General and Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist at Fort Bend Psychiatry in Missouri City, Texas. www.FortBendPsychiatry.com