A panic attack is a very sudden onset of any of a set of the following symptoms explained as physiological phenomenon brought on by any one of a number of triggers, but presenting with physical and cognitive symptoms.
The overriding feeling the person experiences is a sense of loosing control. These attacks most commonly last in the region of 30 minutes but can be a lot shorter. Many people display a range of symptoms, but it is possible to have a Limited Symptom Attack with less than 4 of the symptoms present.
To understand the symptoms one has to understand that this is a way that the body tries to protect itself when faced with a trigger. The fight or flight response kicks in and floods the body with adrenaline. This would be to prepare the body for physical activity. What that does is increase the heart rate. Breathing patterns change causing a change in blood gas levels. Blood sugar can be drawn away from the brain to larger muscles.
The usual onset symptom is a shortness of breath, heart palpitations and chest pain. This can often lead the person to believe they are having a heart attack and seek medical treatment. The cause of this could be one of two conditions. Hyperventilation where the person breathes too fast or Dyspnea where the person experiences trouble breathing and cannot catch their breath. Both of these could be brought under control with deep breathing exercises and reassurance. For hyperventilation a brown paper bag is often used, but there are some practitioners that believe that this could lead to a dangerously low level of oxygen so this should be carefully practised. It is suggested that it is more effective to achieve even breathing by getting the sufferer to consciously count breaths, particularly on the exhalation. Both of these conditions lead to a change in the blood oxygen levels and cause some of the other symptoms.
A tightening of the throat and trouble breathing can be experienced.
Hot and cold flashes and a burning sensation usually around the face and neck. Along with the flashes is profuse sweating and clammy hands. Severe chills could be experienced too caused by the increased sweating which leads to heat loss. This is largely caused by the blood levels sifting.
Dizziness is common and it is important to get the person to lie down so that no injuries are incurred should they faint.
Nausea and abdominal pain are often present. And in some cases severe and sudden diarrhea.
Headaches can be present and this is caused by the changes in the chemical balance of the brain, altered blood sugar and gas levels, as well as muscle tension.
Flashing vision and tunnel vision, much like that experienced in Migraine headaches can be present too.
These symptoms are very intense and leave the person with an overwhelming sense that they are dying. It is very important to reassure the person and help them take control of the symptoms. In some cases people can anticipate an attack. This can be helpful in controlling the symptoms before they take hold.