What are Severe Panic Attacks?

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  • Written By: B. Schreiber
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 12 January 2019
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Severe panic attacks are experienced as having very intense and distressing panic symptoms, as well as more symptoms of panic in general. The term severe panic attacks is not a diagnosis like that of panic disorder. Still, it can be a useful way of describing panic attacks if they are extremely intense, as in a full-blown attack. On a scale of one to 10, such as the subjective units of distress (SUDs) scale, such attacks may be experienced as a nine or a 10. A person having a severe panic attack probably has greater difficulty dealing with panic-related thoughts and feelings.

Severe panic attacks can cause a number of distressing symptoms that may be interpreted as being dangerous or potentially deadly. Since panic attacks are characterized by a number of symptoms, the most severe attacks are likely to feature more symptoms at a greater intensity. These effects can be mental, in which a person fears he or she is having a heart attack or are going to die. There can also be bodily symptoms, such as increased heart rate, and behavioral reactions, like leaving a restaurant during a meal.


These three types of symptoms are stronger and even extreme during severe panic attacks. Frequently, bodily sensations such as heart palpitations, in which a person suddenly feels her heart beating hard, can lead to fears that something is physically wrong. Other symptoms that can be seen as potentially dangerous include rapid breathing, intense dizziness or weakness, and visual changes. Part of overcoming a panic disorder involves realizing that these sensations are caused by panic and not an actual health concern.

In some cases, severe panic attacks can have a strongly disabling effect on a person's life. The fear of having a panic attack can lead to the condition known as agoraphobia, in which a person becomes afraid to go to public places or even to leave the home. While this is not always the case, severe panic attacks can make normal situations like work, socializing, and travel much more difficult. Some people begin to avoid certain places in which a panic attack previously occurred. Possible examples include enclosed areas like airplanes, subways, and movie theaters.

While there are no easy panic attack cures, even severe panic attacks can respond well to therapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy. In the meantime, some medications can be taken as needed to stop panic attacks. Long-term medications like anti-depressants may help control panic attacks in some people.



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