Panic Disorder | Symptoms

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What happens during a panic attack?

Panic attacks are associated with physical symptoms that include the following:

  • Shaking or trembling
  • Feeling that your heart is pounding or racing
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling that you are choking
  • Nausea
  • Cramping
  • Dizziness or weakness
  • An out-of-body feeling
  • Tingling or numbness in your hands, arms, feet or legs
  • Chills or hot flashes
  • Sense of unreality or dreamlike sensations

A person may also have an extreme fear of losing control, going crazy or dying during a panic attack. It is very rare for a person to have all of these symptoms at once. However, the presence of at least 4 symptoms strongly suggests that a person has panic disorder.

Many of the symptoms that occur during a panic attack are the same as the symptoms of diseases of the heart, lungs, intestines or nervous system. The similarities between panic disorder and other diseases may add to the person's fear and anxiety during and after a panic attack. For example, you may believe that you are actually having a heart attack.

Just the fear of having a panic attack is often enough to trigger the symptoms. This is the basis for a condition called agoraphobia. A person who has agoraphobia finds it difficult to leave home (or another safe area) because he or she is afraid of having a panic attack in public or not having an easy way to escape if the symptoms start.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 04/14
Created: 11/95

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