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Panic Attack


A panic attack is a sudden, strong feeling of fear even though you are not in danger. You also have physical symptoms such as rapid breathing or heavy sweating. Symptoms are usually worst about 10 minutes after they start and can last up to 20 minutes. You may feel like you are having a heart attack. You may have a panic attack before an event, such as a public speech you have to give. A panic attack can also happen for no clear reason. Frequent panic attacks may be a sign of a panic disorder that needs long-term treatment.


Return to the emergency department if:

  • You have severe chest pain, shortness of breath, or irregular heartbeats.
  • You have thoughts of harming yourself or another person.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have new or worsening panic attacks after treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


  • Medicines may be given to make you feel more relaxed or to reduce anxiety that causes a panic attack. Some medicines are taken only when you are having a panic attack. Other medicines can be taken to prevent panic attacks.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Call your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Manage or prevent a panic attack:

  • Manage stress. Stress can trigger a panic attack. Yoga and meditation are good ways to help manage stress. It might be helpful to talk to someone about the stress in your life.
  • Exercise as directed. Exercise can reduce stress and help you sleep better. Your healthcare provider can help you create an exercise plan.
  • Set a sleep schedule. Too little sleep can increase anxiety. Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. Keep your room quiet and free from distractions, such as a television or computer.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol and caffeine can both increase anxiety and make it difficult for you to sleep well. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, fish, and beans. Limit sugar. Sugar can increase your symptoms.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can increase anxiety and also cause lung damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.

© 2016 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.