Skip to Content

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.

Common signs and symptoms of a panic attack:

  • Chest pain
  • Sweating or trembling
  • Fast or irregular heartbeats
  • Hyperventilation (breathing so quickly you become dizzy, lightheaded, or faint)
  • Shortness of breath, trouble breathing, or a feeling that you are choking or smothering
  • Lightheadedness or fainting
  • Pale or cold skin, chills, or hot flashes
  • Nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain
  • A feeling that you are separate from your body

Seek care immediately 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.


may include any of the following:

  • 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.
  • A behavior therapist can help you learn to control how your body responds to stressful situations. He may also teach you ways to relax your muscles and slow your breathing during a panic attack. He may teach you ways to assure yourself that the panic attack will not get worse. You may also learn ways to prevent or stop hyperventilation.
  • Exposure therapy is used to help you change your reaction to triggers. You are exposed to your panic attack triggers in small amounts. The amount of exposure is slowly increased until it no longer triggers a panic attack.

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. Limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day if you are a man, or 1 drink a day of you are a woman. 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.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

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

© 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.