Your heart starts racing, you struggle to catch your breath, the room starts to spin and you begin to sweat.
You may not realise what’s happening in this moment, but it’s likely that you’re having a panic attack.
A panic attack is a moment of intense fear or anxiety. It’s your body’s mental and physical response to fear - real or imagined, physical or emotional.
And while the experience can feel overwhelming, it’s actually quite common - around 1 in every 3 people will have a panic attack in their lifetime.
If you regularly have or have ever had a panic attack, here’s what you need to know.
Panic attacks can feel different to everyone, but they’re often said to make you feel like you’re:
It’s not just how you feel that changes during panic attacks, these events also tend to cause physical symptoms, including:
Most panic attacks last for between 5 and 30 minutes, but they can go on for longer.
If you’d like more information, you can find out more about the symptoms and signs of a panic attack.
Panic attacks can have a specific trigger, but they can also have no obvious cause.
Some people - around 1 in 8 - who have panic attacks report living through a major negative life event, such as a chronic illness or traumatic experience.
Other triggers may include:
Even though the experience of having a panic attack can be frightening, there’s usually no reason to visit a doctor. However, see a doctor if you keep having panic attacks as this can be a sign of a condition called panic disorder.
It’s also worth seeing a doctor if:
Panic attacks can significantly affect your life, and you may find it helpful to talk to someone about your experience.
Talking to a close family member, friend or partner can help. Explain what a panic attack feels like for you and how to recognise the signs so they can help if you have another panic attack.
Let them know how they can best support you after a panic attack.
If you want to talk to someone outside your immediate support network, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may help. CBT is a talking therapy that helps you to develop new ways of thinking or behaviour so you can manage specific problems more effectively.
There are things you can do to help you cope with panic attacks if and when they happen. For help and guidance, see this article on how to deal with a panic attack.
Panic disorder [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2020 [cited 16 January 2020]. Available here.
Panic attacks | Mind, the mental health charity - help for mental health problems [Internet]. Mind.org.uk. 2020 [cited 16 January 2020]. Available here.
Panic attacks | Health Information | Bupa UK [Internet]. Bupa.co.uk. 2020 [cited 16 January 2020]. Available here.
Panic attacks and panic disorder - Symptoms and causes [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. 2020 [cited 29 January 2020]. Available here.
How to deal with panic attacks [Internet]. Nhsinform.scot. 2020 [cited 16 January 2020]. Available here.
Are you having panic attacks? [Internet]. Nhsinform.scot. 2020 [cited 17 January 2020]. Available here.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.