Johannesburg - A panic attack is a quick period of anxiety accompanied by a heightened physiological reaction to a threat or danger, real or imagined.
According to Affinity Health, a leading provider of high-quality health care, anxiety is a normal and sometimes even beneficial emotion that helps us deal with stress and danger.
However, anxiety disorders and anxiety attacks are frequently under-reported and under-treated worldwide due to cultural and linguistic differences, mental health stigmas, and insufficient mental health resources.
Murray Hewlett, the CEO of Affinity Health, said anxiety attacks are sudden and intense episodes of fear and panic that can last from a few minutes to several hours.
"When anxiety becomes excessive or irrational, it can become a debilitating condition affecting a person’s daily life."
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), anxiety disorders are the most common mental health conditions globally, affecting approximately 275 million people.
"During an anxiety attack, a person may experience physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms that can be overwhelming and frightening. The symptoms of an anxiety attack can vary from person to person, but some common signs can help you recognise an anxiety attack," said Hewlett.
Below are the symptoms of the above-mentioned types of anxiety attacks presented by Affinity Health:
These are among the most common signs of an anxiety attack, and physical symptoms can be so severe that people may think they are having a heart attack, which can further increase their anxiety and panic.
These symptoms can include rapid heartbeat or palpitations, chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath or hyperventilation, sweating or chills, nausea or abdominal distress, dizziness or light-headedness, trembling or shaking.
Emotional symptoms are another common sign of an anxiety attack, and these emotional symptoms can be distressing and may lead to further anxiety and panic.
These symptoms can include intense fear or terror, feelings of impending doom or danger, extreme nervousness or apprehension, restlessness or agitation, irritability or anger, and a sense of being disconnected from reality.
Cognitive symptoms are the third most common sign of an anxiety attack, and these symptoms can make it difficult to function and may lead to a sense of hopelessness or despair.
These symptoms can include racing or intrusive thoughts, obsessive or compulsive behaviour, difficulty concentrating or focusing, memory problems or forgetfulness, confusion or disorientation, and a distorted sense of time or space.
Anxiety attack triggers
Anxiety attacks can occur suddenly and without warning, but specific situations or events can also trigger them, and identifying the triggers of an anxiety attack can help you avoid or prepare for future episodes.
The common triggers include social problems, such as public speaking or meeting new people; specific phobias, such as flying or heights; traumatic events, such as accidents or violence; stressful life events, such as divorce or job loss; health problems, such as chronic pain or illness; and substance abuse or withdrawal.
Duration and Intensity
Anxiety attacks can last from a few minutes to several hours, and their intensity can vary from mild to severe.
Mild anxiety attacks may cause only a few physical or emotional symptoms, while severe anxiety attacks can cause intense and debilitating symptoms that may require medical attention.
The duration and intensity of an anxiety attack can also vary from person to person and depend on the individual’s overall health, stress level, and coping skills.
Anxiety attacks can be a one-time event or a recurring problem, and people who experience recurring anxiety attacks may have an anxiety disorder, such as panic disorder or generalised anxiety disorder.
People may experience various feelings and behaviours after an anxiety attack. Some common aftermath symptoms include the following:
Exhaustion or fatigue, headaches or migraines, aches and pains, gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhoea or constipation, increased sensitivity to stress or anxiety triggers, avoidance behaviours such as avoiding places or situations that may trigger anxiety attacks.
Hewlett added that these symptoms can be distressing and may increase the risk of future anxiety attacks.
"Anxiety attacks can be a frightening and overwhelming experience; however, recognising the signs and symptoms of an anxiety attack can help you take steps to manage your anxiety and prevent future episodes.
"If you experience anxiety attacks, seeking professional help from a mental health provider who can offer you effective treatment and support is important. Remember that anxiety is a treatable condition, and with the right treatment and support, you can overcome your anxiety and lead a fulfilling life," said Hewlett.