Panic Attack

A panic attack is a severe attack of anxiety that can occur suddenly and without warning, and sometimes for no apparent reason. The experience can be very alarming due to the very unpleasant side effects caused by the body’s response to threat.

Signs and symptoms of panic attacks and over breathing

* Palpitations – a rapid heart beat and thudding sensation.
* Tightness in the chest.
* Sweating and trembling.
* Hot flushes or feeling very cold and chilled.
* Rapid breathing – leading to feelings of being short of breath or even choking.
* Feeling sick.
* Feeling dizzy or faint.
* Rigid and tense muscles.
* ‘Pins and needles’ – tingling and numbness.
* Fear of impending doom or of dying.
* A feeling of unreality – feeling strangely detached.

The physical symptoms are due to the body’s response to a real or imagined threat and the need to supply the muscles with more oxygen – the ‘fight or flight’ response. During a panic attack you are likely to breathe very rapidly and this will disrupt the delicate balance of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood leading to all the distressing symptoms. The most vital treatment for a panic attack or over-breathing is to restore the body’s oxygen and carbon dioxide balance.

Managing over-breathing

* Make a mask with your hands and put them firmly over your nose and mouth and keep them there.
* Concentrate on the word ‘CALM’.
* Concentrate on breathing deeply through your nose.
* Concentrate on breathing out through your mouth – SLOWLY.
* With your hands over your mouth and nose you will be rebreathing in your own exhaled air and restoring the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
* You may have a paper bag available to place over your mouth and nose this is even more effective than your hands – make sure you create a firm seal and never use a plastic or polythene bag!
* As your oxygen balance starts to return to normal you should start to feel better.
* Try and remain calm and relaxed and focused on slowly your breathing down.

After an episode of over-breathing your are likely to feel rather tired – this is quite normal.

Sometimes people get a warning sign before a panic attack, often a feeling of being unable to catch your breath or feeling stifled.

If you experience this and notice that you are starting to breathe too quickly:

* STOP what you are doing and sit down quietly for a few moments.
* FOCUS on the word CALM.
* CONCENTRATE on keeping your breathing regular and slow – 6-8 breathes per minute.
* FOCUS on breathing out again – gently and slowly.

Seek further medical advice

* If the feelings do not subside after 20 minutes of concentrated re-breathing techniques.
* If you still feel unwell even after your breathing has returned to normal.
* If you continue to experience palpitations, rapid heart rate or chest tightness after the attack has subsided.
* If you regularly experience episodes of hyperventilation (rapid breathing) and panic – your doctor will be able to give you additional advice and support.