What Should I do After a Panic Attack?

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  • Written By: Allison Boelcke
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 31 August 2019
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A panic attack is an incident in which a person feels an instant and unexplainable sense of intense anxiety or fear for his or her life. A person’s body may respond as if it is in physical danger, even though there is no immediate risk. If treatment is not sought after a panic attack, it can result in future attacks and may lead to permanent physical complications.

After a panic attack, you should generally review the symptoms you experienced to ensure the incident fits the definition of a panic attack. People who have experienced their first panic attacks may be likely to dismiss the incident as normal anxiety and may not think it is serious enough to visit a doctor. Some people also confuse heart attacks with panic attacks, and reviewing your symptoms can help prevent you from putting off immediate emergency medical treatment for a life-threatening condition like a heart attack. The most common symptoms of a panic attack include sudden rapid heartbeat, the feeling of imminent injury or death, difficulty breathing and swallowing, dizziness, or trembling. Symptoms will generally come on suddenly with no provocation and will then subside within thirty minutes after a panic attack.


Once you have determined that your symptoms fit the description of a panic attack, it is generally recommended that you visit a physician. He or she will usually ask you to describe the symptoms you experienced during the incident, as well as any circumstances you were in prior to the attack. The physician will typically perform a physical examination and test blood samples to determine if there are any conditions affecting the heart, thyroid, blood count, or any other physical issues.

A mental health examination is then usually performed by a psychiatrist after any physical issues are eliminated. He or she will usually ask you if you ever use drugs or alcohol and if you have experienced any trauma or other life changes, such as being physically abused or raped, fighting in military battle, or losing a loved one. The psychiatrist will also typically ask you about any emotions you felt prior to the incident, as well as after, such as repeated incidents or being afraid to go out in public. If he or she determines that you experienced a panic attack and are not suffering from any other underlying mental health conditions, he or she will then determine the best course of treatment to prevent future attacks.

Panic attacks tend to be treated with therapy. One common type of therapy recommended after a panic attack is cognitive behavioral therapy, in which a mental health professional helps you to identify circumstances that trigger an attack so you can learn to alter your reactions, such as through deep breathing or other relaxation methods. Another treatment option is psychodynamic psychotherapy, in which a psychotherapist works with you to determine if any unconscious thoughts or fears are contributing to the attacks. In addition to therapy treatment options, antidepressant medications may be prescribed to treat any depression or other symptoms associated with the attacks.



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