A panic attack is characterised by a sudden onset of intense fear or discomfort that is accompanied by a surge of four or more from a list of 13 physical and cognitive symptoms that reaches a peak within minutes. The typical panic attack begins abruptly and seldom lasts longer than five to 20 minutes.
Symptoms of a panic attack include:
- Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
- Feelings of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint
- Chills or heat sensations
- Paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations)
- Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
- Fear of losing control or ‘going crazy’
- Fear of imminent death
Agoraphobia is a particular type of anxiety in which a person fears and avoids situations or places where the escape could be difficult in the event of a panic attack. The person who suffers from agoraphobia often feels trapped, helpless, unable to escape, and embarrassed as a response to feelings of panic. Symptoms of agoraphobia resemble the physical and psychological responses to panic attacks (see above).