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NHS Choices Condition

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The symptoms of a panic attack can be very frightening and distressing. Symptoms tend to occur very suddenly, without any warning, and often for no apparent reason. As well as overwhelming feelings of anxiety, a panic attack can also cause the following symptoms:

  • sensation that your heart is beating irregularly (palpitations),
  • sweating,
  • trembling,
  • hot flushes,
  • chills,
  • shortness of breath,
  • choking sensation,
  • chest pain,
  • nausea,
  • dizziness,
  • feeling faint,
  • numbness, or pins and needles,
  • dry mouth,
  • a need to go to the toilet,
  • ringing in your ears, and
  • a feeling of dread, or a fear of dying.

The symptoms of a panic attack can be so intense that it can make you feel like you are having a heart attack. The fear of having a heart attack can then add to your sense of panic.

However, it is important to be aware that symptoms such as a racing heart beat, or shortness of breath, will not actually lead to you having a heart attack. Although frightening, a panic attack will not cause you any physical harm. People who have had panic disorder for some time will usually learn to recognise this 'heart attack sensation', and will be more aware of how to control their symptoms.

The symptoms of a panic attack normally peak within 10 minutes. Most attacks will last for five to 30 minutes.

Recurrent panic attacks

People with panic disorder have panic attacks on a recurring basis. Some people with the condition have panic attacks once or twice a month, while others have attacks several times a week.

People with panic disorder also tend to have ongoing and constant feelings of worry and anxiety. Because panic attacks can be very unpredictable, if you have panic disorder, you may feel stressed and worried about when your next attack will be.


During a panic attack, your symptoms can feel so intense and out of your control that you may feel detached from the situation, almost as though you are an observer. It can make the situation seem very 'unreal'.

This sense of detachment is known as depersonalisation. Being detached from the situation does not provide any relief, or make a panic attack less frightening. Instead, it often makes the experience more confusing and disorientating.

view information about Panic disorder on www.nhs.co.uk »

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