Panic attack disorder is a disorder that suddenly affects seemingly healthy people who are not necessarily in stressful situations.
The psychical symptoms of panic attacks are represented by a sudden fear or terror and/or a sudden feeling of death or loss of control over one’s ideas and actions.
On a general level, the symptoms contribute to alarming the individual, causing tachycardia, dyspnea, dizziness, flushing, chills, tremors and sweating. During more serious panic attacks, the individual can lose touch with reality (derealisation) and think he/she is in a new world and that he/she is a different person completely, thus he/she does not recognise him/herself anymore (depersonalisation). Acute symptoms last for 15-30 minutes and the attack leaves the sufferer feeling very scared, so much so that if this fear is not resolved over time, it can cause a series of phobias, the most common of which is agoraphobia (fear of open spaces), which may lead on to serious forms of self-isolation and demoralisation.
Sporadic and mild panic attacks, or pseudo-attacks, which occur when people are stressed, affect 30-35% of the population, the majority of which are young people. Real panic attacks, which require medical treatment, affect 2-3% of the population, and the majority of these people are aged 25-30. During this period of life, we tend to lay the foundations for our family and working lives, and panic attacks, if not treated properly, can definitively condition the future, and thus the aforementioned aspects, of those who are affected.
Repeated panic attacks gradually cause limitations to establish inside the sufferer. Initially, the individual tends to avoid places and situations in which he/she fears a panic attack will occur, such as driving, going to the supermarket or using a lift. Then, the subject panics if he/she finds him/herself in the middle of a crowd or if he/she has to go over a bridge, through a tunnel or travel by plane, for example. This person then becomes scared of crossing the road and going into open spaces (agoraphobia) and, eventually, he/she continues his/her existence within the four walls of his/her home.
We often confuse panic attacks with psychotic symptoms or physical symptoms. An accurate psychological exam can provide a precise diagnosis. Certain antidepressant medicines and behavioural psychotherapy can often be the most effective treatment.