Panic Attack Causes, Statistics, Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects

What is a Panic Attack?

Panic attacks can be a terrifying experience for anyone who has endured them. Panic attacks can be characterized by an episode of extreme fear or apprehension that often triggers severe physical reactions, even without an apparent cause. Panic attacks can occur suddenly, with little warning or reason and can last for a period of minutes or hours. An individual who experiences a panic attack may report feeling a sense of dying, symptoms of a heart attack, loss of control of themselves, or as if though they are “going crazy”. Attacks can be triggered by fear, extreme stress, or possibly exercise, though the specific cause is not always apparent. Panic attacks are considered to be a type of anxiety disorder, and they are distinguished from other forms of anxiety by their sudden, episodic nature and intensity with which they are experienced.

If you or a loved one has experienced panic attacks, you may find yourself living in a crippling fear of having another attack. This fear may prevent you from daily activities and enjoying life to its fullest potential, severely hampering your quality of life. Thankfully, panic attacks can be minimized and controlled through focused help and treatment. Consider seeking panic attack treatment for addressing the needs and concerns associated with this condition.

Panic Attack Statistics

Statistics about panic attacks are helpful in better understanding this mental issue and in creating improved outcomes for those who are suffering. The following are pertinent statistics about panic attacks that give great insight into this illness:

  • Many individuals who experience a panic attack, typically for the first time, fear they are having a heart attack or nervous breakdown [1].
  • Screening tools like Panic Disorder Severity Scale can be used to detect possible cases of this disorder and suggest the need for a formal diagnostic assessment [2].
  • Individuals who experience repeated, persistent attacks or feel severe anxiety about having another attack are said to have panic disorder. Panic disorder is strikingly different from other types of anxiety disorders in that panic attacks are often sudden and unprovoked [3].
  • Research has demonstrated that psychoanalytic psychotherapy is equally effective in relieving panic attacks as behavior approaches and has fewer relapses [4].
  • Panic disorders affect approximately 2.4 million U.S. adults, with the disorder most often beginning during the late teens and early adulthood and occurring in twice as many American women as men [5].

Causes of a Panic Attack

While there are not specific causes for panic attacks occurring in adults or children, it is generally understood that a combination of factors contribute to this condition, including biological vulnerabilities, social stressors, and psychological issues. There are some individuals who are at higher risk of developing panic attacks. For example, individuals who have family members that have experienced panic attacks are at greater risk, as inheritance through genetics can play a strong role. Other biological factors might include a nutritional deficiency, other chronic illnesses (such as cardiovascular diseases), or an imbalance of hormones. Social stressors may include situational bound panic attacks, lack of assertiveness in communications with others, or involvement in major life stressors or transitions. Finally, psychological factors can also contribute to the experience of a panic attack. This would include anxiety sensitivity, phobias, history of physical or sexual abuse, or experiencing a traumatic event.

Overall, panic attacks are physical responses to stress, and stress levels can accumulate and increase due to a variety of factors. For example, adults are more likely to experience stressors that pertain to marital or financial conflict. In contrast, adolescent stressors may include parental separation, sexuality issues, death/illness of a loved one, or difficulties in school. Exposure to any of these stressors during a lifetime can make an individual vulnerable to developing a panic attack. This condition should be treated seriously, and appropriate panic attack treatment is important to seek in order to minimize the potential of a recurring attack.

Signs and Symptoms of a Panic Attack

If a person is experiencing a panic attack, particular signs and symptoms will be evident. If you or a loved one has a panic attack, it is crucial that help is sought immediately. Common signs and symptoms of panic attack include but are not limited to:

  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling of choking
  • Palpitations or accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or faint
  • Chills or hot flashes
  • Paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations)
  • Fear of going insane or losing control
  • Sense of impending death
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or being smothered
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Depersonalization (being detached from oneself)

If you or your loved one has been experiencing any of these above symptoms as a result of panic attack, it is recommended that you seek medical and professional help immediately.

Panic Attack Effects

No matter if you have had one panic attack, several episodes of panic attacks, or if you have a loved one who has had one, going through the experience of a panic attack is a frightful and terrifying experience. Panic attacks can be severely debilitating and prevent an individual from living their daily lives, particularly if it is not treated or addressed professionally. By comprehending how a panic attack might impact the various aspects of your life, you may find the encouragement needed to get the help you need and deserve. The following are some of the effects of panic attack:

Physical Effects – Panic attacks can be taxing physically, as the body attempts to cope with an intolerable amount of stress, grief, or tragedy. These are some physical effects that may be experienced:

  • Sensation to “fight or flight”
  • Heart palpitations, chest pain
  • Burning sensations
  • Hot/cold flashes
  • Abnormal behavior changes
  • Hyperventilation
  • Difficulty concentrating

Psychological Effects – Panic attacks will have a tremendous impact on your mental health, particularly if it is left untreated. Some of the psychological effects that may be experienced include:

  • Derealization
  • Severe depression
  • Increased anxiety or reoccurring panic attacks
  • Progression of other mental disorders, such as panic disorder or agoraphobia
  • Suicidal ideations

Finally, panic attacks can deter your ability to relate to others socially. Effects of panic attacks on one’s social life include:

  • Avoidance of social situations due to fear of experiencing a panic disorder in public.
  • Increased isolation and withdrawal from loved ones
  • Inability to enjoy activities or hobbies once interested in
  • Decreased performance in work or school
  • Marital or familial conflicts

Panic Attack Treatment

If you or a loved one has suffered with intolerable levels of stress, to the point that a panic attack has been endured, take comfort in knowing that you are not alone in your sufferings. You can find the help and hope you need to overcome this illness by seeking the appropriate help and care you need. Encountering the many negative effects of panic attack in addition to contributing factors can feel overwhelming, but your life does not need to be lived in fear or isolation. A panic attack treatment center can provide the tools and resources you need to recover and heal from any situation you may have endured.


[1]: Reid, Wilson (1996). Don’t Panic: Taking Control of Your Anxiety Attacks. Revised Edition, HC.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 15th, 2013
Published on, Substance Abuse Treatment Resource

One thought on “Panic Attack Causes, Statistics, Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects

  1. Phil

    Hi Jacqueline. Thanks you for you very informative site. I enjoyed reading the above and particularly liked that you made constant reference to the fact that the reader could be the family member of the sufferer, trying to inform themselves about this disorder. In a lot of cases this is how it is.

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