A panic attack begins suddenly, and most often peaks within 10 to 20 minutes. Some symptoms continue for an hour or more. A panic attack may be mistaken for a heart attack.
A person with panic disorder often lives in fear of another attack, and may be afraid to be alone or far from medical help.
People with panic disorder have at least four of the following symptoms during an attack:
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Dizziness or faintness
- Fear of dying
- Fear of losing control or impending doom
- Feeling of choking
- Feelings of detachment
- Feelings of unreality
- Nausea or upset stomach
- Numbness or tingling in the hands, feet, or face
- Palpitations, fast heart rate, or pounding heart
- Sensation of shortness of breath or smothering
- Sweating, chills, or hot flashes
- Trembling or shaking
Panic attacks may change behavior and function at home, school, or work. People with the disorder often worry about the effects of their panic attacks.
People with panic disorder may abuse alcohol or other drugs. They may feel sad or depressed.
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.