Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Heart attack or panic attack? Both require attention
When I was a medical student, I did a rotation on the psychiatry service at the University of Michigan. Most of the patients I saw were terribly debilitated by mental illness and required hospitalization, sometimes for weeks on end. Often, they had a long history of troubles and were besieged by their illness. Just by looking at these patients, you knew something was wrong.

I also saw a lot of patients who looked and acted perfectly normal. In fact, it was only after 15 to 30 minutes of questions did it become apparent that these patients suffered from crippling anxiety.

Without any specific reason, they'd begin to worry. A lot. Sometimes they would develop shortness of breath and a racing heart, again for no apparent reason. It can lead to substance abuse and depression. You can feel like you are dying. This morning, I profiled a man who fit that diagnosis exactly. Kevin Penwell was an All-American ball player, could run marathons, and had an MBA and the perfect job. One day out of the blue, he began to sweat profusely and started shaking. He told us he thought he was having a heart attack. He wasn't, but it sure felt like one.

Truth is, most people I have spoken to about this take me aside and say "Hey doc, I think that happened to me." Today, while I was doing a live shot on the topic, Miles O'Brien confided that he, too, had most likely suffered from a panic attack in the past. He's doing well today.

How about you? Have you ever suffered from a panic attack? How did you recognize it or treat it?
Hi Sunjay,

I know exactly what you mean about the clinic at U of M. I used to work in Anesthesiology at Michigan, and we would go up there to the floors and give the kids a Christmas party every year. They looked so normal, but the suffering is going on underneath. Anxiety is much more common than most people realize and some suffer needlessly in silence. Thanks for shedding light on this common problem, and making it "o.k." to talk about openly.
I discovered an excellent book, The Anxiety Epidemic on natural control of anxiety/stress. It really helped me, and I discovered a fantastic patented formula called Anxiety Control. I didn't want to get hooked on drugs, but I knew I needed help.
I have a 15 year old nephew who suddenly starting having these and was so convinced he was going to die, that he made a brief foray into self medicating with acohol because he didn't want to burden his mother. He talked to the family but his DR still doesn't seem to know what to do. Any ideas? This is an exceptionally well balanced, well grounded kid.
I had my first panic attack after a major accident that almost ended my life. My Dr. diagnosed me with PTSD. You feel like you are coming unwound - you can't breathe or think straight. All you can think about is the fact that you could be "losing it." I am currently being treated with Lexapro to keep things under control. You can have panic attacks that are so bad that you can't move forward. Relaxation techinques work - I'm an avid yoga person. And a heavy dose of religion/spirituality always helps - pray and go to church for some relief and guidance.
I, too, am a successful professional who has suffered from periodic bouts of severe anxiety and panic attacks. The worst period of my life was between 18-30 when I was frequently in the ER with what I thought were heart attack symptoms that would wake me from a sound sleep -- racing heart, sweating, nausea, dread... It took TWELVE YEARS for someone to finally recognize the symptoms for what they were. I am now 46 and still occasionally suffer from panic attacks, usually accompanying stressful situations. A combination of Lexapro and Trazadone keep the worst symptoms at bay, allowing me to (usually) perform at optimal levels. Also, the book "Hope and Help for Your Nerves" by Claire Weekes played a part in saving by sanity, if not my life.
I have suffered from panic attacks my entire life. Most of them were low-grade attacks, and I usually chalked them up to being shy or having claustrophobia. Not long after my father was diagnosed with a serious illness, I started having severe attacks. I worked in a medical facility next to a hospital, and sometimes had to go into the hospital to take care of things or have lunch at the cafeteria. But after Dad was told he would need a transplant, the hospital became unbearable. There were certain pictures on the wall that would instantly send me into a panic attack. My heart would race, I would get dizzy and flushed, and I could feel the walls close in around me. It was so bad sometimes that I would literally have to walk outside to get my composure back. I was lucky, however, that I recognized what was happening to me and knew that there were treatment options open. I went to my doctor, and we decided that my best option was medication. I tried therapy, but as I come from a family with a long history of depression and anxiety and panic disorders. it wasn't as effective for me as it often is for others. I was also lucky to have support from my family and my employer. After the triggers were removed (Dad had his surgery and I'm no longer working at that facility), the panic attacks have mostly subsided, and I'm no longer taking medication.
I had my first panic attack driving on an interstate. I had no idea what my body was going through. This happened approximately 15 years ago. I had never heard of a panic attack and hid this for 2 years until I couldn't hide it any longer. I will not drive interstates to this day because I'm afraid that I will lose control. I have seen doctors regarding this for the past 13 yrs. I take medication but the fear never leaves. I still drive, but I take the back roads to get where I need to. I've tried to venture onto interstates but find that I cannot go the speed limit. I can't stand for cars to get behind me. I immediately can feel my body triggering a panic attack. The fear is overwelming!!! I've learned that what I have now is aggraphobia. I would love to have my life back. This issue has created a less than whole life. If anyone has any advise to this, please help!
So is there a diagnosis for what can trigger the panic attack? Unfortunately that had happened to me about a year ago and all I got was some medication with no explanation. Is there anything someone can do to keep this from re-occurring? And what type of attention would this situation require if it should happen on a recurring basis? I just don't want to be dependant on the drug to calm me down and be labeled as an 'abuser', because let me tell you... no breathing techniques help you out in that state of mind where you feel like you're about to die.
I had what is being called a panic attack a few years back, I became dizzy, had tunnel vision and difficulty breathing. Of course called the doctor and they told me to take Benadryl and lie down, that it was most likely a panic attack. Funny thing is I don't know what caused it, I was not under any unusual stress or anything at the time. I do still have occasional mild attacks and am taking Wellbutrin which seems to be helping.
Dr Gupta,

I used to have bad anxiety. About one year ago in Feb of 06' I suddenly had this feeling that I may be dying. I din't even really know it was panic until about one month later. During a barrage of Medical tests it was determined that nothing is wrong with my heart, brain, or anything else.
The great news is that I went from a panic attack about every other day the first month to only one in the last 9 1/2 months. I got promoted at my company and I'm working on a degree in psych to help other people with anxiety and also do career counseling. I did it without any medication, only natural methods. A great book I recommend is The Anxiety and Phobia workbook...very great holistic guide for recovery from anxiety disorder.
I'm glad that you, Dr. Gupta, put this information on the web.

I knew I was suffering from depression but I truly didn't know how bad it was until I had my first panic attack. I started breathing heavily, my heart started pacing, and my hands started shaking uncontrollably. Dizziness and fatigue use to set in shortly afterwards.

After getting on depression medication (I felt it was the only way for me to get out of this hole), I've noticed that when I think about the certain situation that drove me into these panic attacks, the only thing that happens to me is that my arms go slightly numb. Other than that, I don't feel a sinking feeling or don't gasp for air.

Lexapro has worked for me over these past three weeks, and is that recommended to stop panic attacks from happening?
The first time I had a panic attack, I thought I was dying. It was total fear for me. Heart racing, hot and cold flashes all over my body and I didn't think I could breathe. It was awful. I feel for anyone who has panic attacks. You'd be surprised what you think you can handle as far as stress. Your mind might be strong, but eventually your body will tell you when enough is enough.
Dr. Gupta, I used to get panic attacks all the time. Usually when college tests are stressing me out. My heart just skips beats. I went to the ER two times in a year because my heart was skipping beats, and I thought I was having a heart attack. It still happens to me sometimes before a big test. It's scary. I wish I could control it. You see my older brother just had his second major heart attack and he's only 42, and I guess I think it's going to happen to me too. I think my brother's heart attacks made me paranoid. I haven't had a heart attack yet, it just turned out to be panic attacks, and I know heart disease runs in the family. I hope panic attacks aren't something that can run in the family too, cause I don't want my kids to go though it and I don't think panic attacks are hereditary, but who knows? Medical science hasn't answered all the questions, and I thought that was your job Dr. Gupta.
Good day to ya Dr. Gupta and CNN staff
Thank you for your posts. They validate what I've been going thru the past few weeks. I'm a healthy, active 25 year old and all of a sudden 3 weeks ago I had what i now know was a panic attack. I was laying on the couch watching tv when i suddenly started to feel "funny".. and then felt like I couldn't breathe. My heart started racing very quickly and I was overcome with a feeling that something was very wrong. I called 911 and was taken to the hospital were they said "Nothing is wrong with you." The next day I experienced the same thing while at work and went to a different ER. After an EKG, chest xray and a Cat scan I was told that nothing was wrong and I was probably suffering from anxiety and Panic attacks. Over the past few weeks it goes from bad to decent and I've yet to feel like my old self. I took 2 weeks off from my job as a Sales Manager and reluctantly returned to work. The doctor put me on Paxil and I've noticed no significant difference over the past 10 days. The only thing that gets me thru most days is the Lorazepam the doctor prescribed for "emergency" anxiety. My symptoms have changed from racing heart, etc.. to constantly sweating in my hands and feet and a bad feeling of dread that varies in intensity. Some days I feel like I'm going to die. It's even sparked me to create a will because I've felt like something is seriously wrong with me. It seems there is no end in sight. I've just started accupunture as well as using a new device called "Stress Eraser" from sharper image that helps you focus your breathing. It has helped.. Any other suggestions from anyone would be appreciated.
For Concerned:

As I understand triggers, they are different for everyone, and not everyone has definite triggers. For me, there were several, and even they wouldn't necessarily set me off every time. Some days I could walk through a hospital with no problem, other days I couldn't even think about hospitals without getting dizzy and wanting to run away. I also had a lot of problems with enclosed places, like elevators, or being in a crowd. I started keeping notes about when I would have the attacks, and what I was doing when they occurred. This helped me figure out what my particular triggers were. This also helped me when I talked to my doctor about adjusting my medication, because I had the information about how often I was having the attacks, how bad they were, and what started them. There were some attacks that had no obvious trigger, and that was just part of the disease. But having those notes was a real help for me. They also reminded me that I had been having the attacks and lived through them, that nothing bad had actually happened to me, and that the attacks were my body responding to the disease.

Believe it or not, breathing really can help. It may take some practice, but just reminding yourself to breathe and let the attack go can shorten the attacks. Remembering that you lived through the last one can help you have the strength to get through the one you're having. Is it easy? No. But it can be done. I also, after a while, got to the point that I could "detach" myself from the attack, and tell myself that I was having an attack and that if I just waited for a couple of minutes, it would be over and I could go on with what I was doing. But that was after several months on medication.

While medication isn't right for everyone, it was a godsend for me. I looked at my medication as being as necessary for me to function as any other prescribed drug. If I were in your shoes, I'd go back to my doctor and ask questions about the condition, the medication, and about resources you might use in your community to help you get through this. If you can't get any answers from your doctor, you might want to consult with another doctor or a psychiatrist. There may be other medications that would work better, or other options like therapy that could be of more use to you, that you don't know about. If you are a member of a church, you might want to consult with your minister to see if there are resources available through the church. And while the internet can be a great resource, there is also a lot to be wary of. I hope you find the treatment that works best for you, as I hope we all do.
I am a student in high school and was researching CNN for a current event. I saw this headline and decided it would be a good topic. I didn't know it was going to describe symptoms I have everyday. I thought it was just me, but I am happy to know that I'm not alone.
I started having panic attacks when I was 12 years old. I hide it for 2 years because I didn�t know what was happening to me � I thought I was going crazy. Trouble is, when you hide something like this, it does cause you to go a little crazy. I ended up in a treatment facility at the age of 15 because my attacks were so bad I wouldn�t leave the house and even tried to kill myself.

I�m 30 now, and my life is completely different! I am on medication and plan to be the rest of my life. I have accepted that I will always have panic attacks but I refuse to let them hold me back! Now when a panic attack comes on I think to myself �oh it�s you again� and I just accept that the panic will come on strong but will then leave (like gust of wind). As much as it feels like I�m going to pass out or die I know that I won�t and that it is just a reaction that my body is having.

I am proof that you can continue to have panic attacks and still be successful in life. I have a great job and family and I EVEN stand up in front of hundreds of people for company presentations!
I always considered myself to be a laid back person who didn't worry too much. Well now at the ripe age of 23 I have suffered from not only my first anxiety attack but have had 2 more unpleasent occasions. I was at total peace in the middle of the woods in a small town in North Dakota.... Next thing I knew I thought i was DYING, having a heart attack for sure! I had the worst tunnel vision ever, my body was so hot I was ripping my clothes off and grunting, i could not get a breath into my lungs and thought it was the end! For the rest of the weekend I tried to just take it real easy and make it until i could visit my Dr. on Monday. She informed me this was a "classic" anxiety attack. I am thinking "classic" like you know this situation could occur to someone and you don't teach us how to deal. I have been given a small quantity (5) of Ativan for emergency use. They work well in the sense that I fall right asleep when I take them, thus do not feel panic!
Thank you, Dr. Gupta, for bringing this topic out into the open! I am a success story when it comes to anxiety and panic. I began having panic attacks around age 21. As was typical of me, I saw doctors, did research, read books, and began therapy as a result (panic tends to affect type-A, overachieving individuals like me). With treatment, I improved tremendously and now haven't had an attack in over two years. I work as a social worker, and I see lots of people who suffer from anxiety. It's terrible to go through, but I would like to spread the word that it is very treatable! What helped me the most was cognitive behavioral therapy and the book Don't Panic by Reed Wilson. By changing my thought patterns and learning to take care of myself, I began to heal.
I have GAD and sometimes you do feel like you're about to lose it when having a panic attack, which is more serious than an anxiety attack. I just try to tell myself that whatever is worrying me won't get any better if I don't take a deep breath and deal with it. Also a low dose of anti-anxiety medication helps me get through the everyday stress of being a full time student and working 40 hours a week.
I have suffered from panic attacks for many years. Unfortunately there are many MD's that do not recognize this as an illness that requires medical treatment. To date I have found that Zoloft and Xanax truly keep my panic attacks under control and allow me to live my life.
I have suffered from anxiety and panic attacks for years, at first I went through the whole heart cath thing, sure I was having a heart attack. Now I know I am not, I take medication daily for the anxiety and I try to remind myself when it starts that it will pass and I will be OK.
I have a trick when I get a panic attack. I lay down, and breathe slowly. With each breath, I imagine myself sinking about 6 inches, feeling heavier, and after a while it goes away.
I've had them my entire life, but I didn't realize what they were until I was in my 50s. I remember my first one was in second grade during a spelling test. I had to be perfect! They've come in different ways. Once, I felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest - the weight and pressure was just tremendous, and sweating, and tension headaches, and stomach aches, and an overwhelming desire to sleep. The 'electric' wave that starts in your feet and runs up your body leaving you feeling sick and scared. I'm taking Lexapro with good results. I can still feel the symptoms when I'm under too much stress, but they are so much weaker now. I think I have anxiety attacks because of the way I was raised - scared to death most of the time that I'd do somethng wrong and make my parents angry. I think the worst part is that when I'm in the middle of one - I really can't think clearly. Everything seems like such a big deal, life threatening even.
It didn't help that I lived through some very traumatic experiences as I was growing up with no therapy to get me through it except for the cold turkey method.
I have been suffering from panic, anxiety, and depression (knowingly) for the past 6 years. The first time I had a panic attack I had know idea was what happening and I thought that the feeling would never stop. It was even scarier because I had no idea what it was. The more I learned about anxiety and panic, what was triggering it, and how I could deal with it, the "better" I felt. I was surprised to learn how many people suffer from this, and how common it is. I think it is a very debilitating condition, and the more we learn and talk about it, I think the more people can learn to deal with this, and others can become aware of this condition. Medicaton and therapy does help, but unfortunately I, and many others, may suffer from this indefinitely.
I suffered from my first and worst anxiety attack right after 9/11. All of the symptoms described above happened to me. It took me a year, but since 2002 I have been managing my anxiety effectively. I would say that there isn't one cure. We all need a supportive family, a really good therapist, some form of medication (which does take some getting used to), and the personal will to get better. By personal will, I mean the willingness to try breathing exercises, thought pointing exercises, and multiple other techniques that help the effectiveness of the medication and therapy.
It is a relief to know there are many people out there who are making it through this right beside me. Good luck to everyone!
I have suffered from some sort of anxiety/panic for my whole life. I have had many ups and downs - done cognitive therapy, breathing, facing the things that make me panic and then practicing them and medication. Medication has been the only thing to make me feel totaly "normal", although the other things were helpful. My advice to anyone who is prescribed medication is this: give it time to work first of all and if it doesn't, try another one. Different people react differently to each medication - so stick with it and be pro-active - talk to your doctor very honestly and don't give up! And finally - you are NOT alone! There are millions of us out there just like you!
Oh my, boy can I panic. My atacks are very bad. People with these attacks hide them, or do anything to avoid being around people should one of these occur. Your mind never stops, never. Always fear, if your car stalls, in a group of people, insecurity, eventually withdrawing more and more at home without interation with people. My attacks started with driving, I felt the car was tilting on the freeway. I had to pull over, I pinched myself, didn't know who I was, very, very dry mouth, can't talk. Couldn't eventually drive on a freeway. It could literally take me hours to drive to work by going back roads, but scared to death of hills and afraid of everything, at the time I had a stick shift, (eventhough I had always driven only a stick shift) scared to death that I would not manage to shift and lift the clutch without killing the car or worse roll back into another car.

It has been an ongoing problem, it's horrible, and it's something nobody wants to talk about.

I am a very strong woman, I was always confident, wanted a brite future. Now, fear and palpitalions, dry mouth, not being able to catch my breath, sick to my stomach, shaking, crying. I'm so glad someone is talking about this, eventually I'm afraid I will eventually become agoraphobc(sp)totally.
Dr Sanjay Gupta,

Can panic attacks eventually lead to depression?..I suffered from them throughout high school and never understood why it happened..I later began taking paxil and they eventually stopped even after I quit medication.
My name is Shira and I am 29 years old. At 22 I left my job in fashion design to care for my Mom who had just been diagnosed with stage 3 metastatic melanoma. I was with her 24-7, researching treatment, helping on extended trips to the US for biochemo, dealing with all the medications and trying to keep life as 'normal' as possible. My caregiving role defined me. It filled my life and gave me a tremendous sense of purpose.

After a three year fight my best friend was gone. I stumbled hard and anxiety attacks consumed my days. I tried different types of conventional therapies, began daily yoga practice, took courses in Mind/Body medicine and more... What really made a difference was finally coming to the realization that the loss of meaning resulting from my Mom's death was causing me tremendous stress. I had been left without purpose, without focus. This void and loss of control was the major factor that led to my anxiety and caused my panic attacks.

While my Mom was alive, we often discussed how it was that we were able to live with her illness and still find joy even in the the darkest days. Sharing what we learned and helping others live more joyfully is what has brought motivation, purpose and light back into my life. I find that the more I am able to share our story and help others choose joy, the better I feel.

I still have attacks (my husband can attest to that), however now when I do I take inventory of what is going on around me and find the catalyst. I take a pause as soon as I start to feel stress and am most often able to find a way to remedy the situation and avoid the panic attack that would otherwise follow.

Thank you Dr. Gupta for blogging about this very important topic.
I took Paxil for 4 years for panic disorder. The medications work well, but common side effects are weight gain and sexual dysfunction. I feel it is more beneficial to treat anxiety disorders with behavior therapy rather than take medication long-term.
i have never had a panic attack, but recently had a bout with what i believe to have been serotonin syndrome, which has similar symptoms. i had been taking metadate for adhd and sam-e for arthritis and had to have emergency surgery. the pain killers i was given in the hospital triggered WILD anxiety.........and continued for several weeks until i figured out that the medicines i'd taken for years without side effects were causing the problem, and stopped taking them. it was a recent new york times article on the web that tipped me off. bless you and all the other internet news sources for discussing medical issues; you (and the new york times) helped me figure out what my own doctors didn't understand at all. i wonder how many other people have experienced this syndrome and not realized what caused their mental health issues?
I stayed for the storm, which was not the worst part. As I walked around that afternoon, I realized that my town was wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. My family separated for the first time because we all lost our homes and many friends have moved off to start over somewhere else. I know I felt anxious and everyday was a fight just to survive but I felt so much to be thankful for and I still had a lot of hope and resolution. I have later realized that I have times of amnesia for the days and weeks following the storm.

What really bothers me if that my memory is still poor, not just from then but also currently. I can function well but I am having terrible trouble remembering names and associating them with faces. I have always had a mind like a steel trap (ask my husband) but now I can't focus well, my thoughts race, I definitely have every kind of insomnia you can think of, and I can't verbalize as well as I used to.

I am taking Welbutrin for anxiety and Trazodone to try to help me sleep but I am concerned that there is permanent damage of some kind. I am in tears as I write this.
I suffered with anxiety attacks for about a year until I realized, quite by accident, that I am gluten-intolerant. I react to the ingestion of wheat, rye, and barley with anxiety attacks and depression, among other symptoms.
I suspect there are many people out there who are having similar reactions from undiagnosed food intolerances that can cause neurological reactions like this.
I was on the verge of starting a Lexapro regimen when I was fortunate enough to discover my real problem. No gluten = no anxiety attacks for me.

I've noticed a lot of people have referenced meds to help. I started having panic attacks every month or so when I was 13, and my mother has always been on meds for anxiety attacks, my parents kept saying I should get on meds, but my panic attacks pretty much stopped when I moved out of my parents home. Both of my parents were/are alcoholics and I had a very stressful home life. Counseling has further helped me deal my past as well as how to handle stress. I am 22 now and just wonder when/if the going gets tough again, will I be able to handle it or will my attacks return and I will need meds. Are anxiety and panic attacks due to something chemically wrong happening and so you need meds to correct or result of poor stress mangement, or a way for your body to tell you that emotionally, you have had enough?
I suffered with panic and generalized anxiety for ten years constantly trying to hide it and dismissing it as being ridiculous. I constantly felt like I had just missed a car accident or caught myself just before falling in a chair. I also felt as though I was not living my life, but simply observing others and my environment. I finally came to the realization that it was ok to seek help and that taking medication was not a sign of weakness. While I still have occassional anxiety, it is drastically improved. I mourn for all I missed those ten years out of fear of the stigma associated with mental disease.
For those of you struggling and worrying about medication, talk to someone. Find out the facts. Don't lose ten years of your life.
There is, in the Book of Common Prayer, a part of the General Confession that goes (similarly)"forgive us that which we ought to have done but have left undone ...and that which we have done that we ought not have done ... for there is no health in us". After my mother died (and I watched her deterioration and her eventual death)the anxiety and panic attacks were horrendous ... until I finally realized that an unfounded guilt was making me sick. Luckily, I had a great doctor (and friends!) and with much soul searching and some medication, the attacks are less and less frequent. But I sympathize with everyone who experiences them ... they are one step from distancing yourself from life completely. Thank you for allowing this forum ...!
Dr. Gupta,

What can be done during the attack?
I was almost debilitated at 30 (1980) by panic disorder. My medical profile went from one page to dozens of pages...cardiac tests, you name it. The Mayo clinic finally diagnosed me and tried tr-cyclic antidepressants. I had severe drug related side effects (called "drug fecer") so I couldn't take any of them. Luckily then Prozac (SSRIs) came out and I haven't suffered since. Anybody who doesn't think that the SSRIs are as much miracle drugs as aspirin has never really needed them!
I am 24 years old and I have suffered from panic attacks and anxiety my whole life. I am the definition of panic attacks, and have much to say but too much to write here.
I would have panic attacks that felt like my body was trying to race as fast as it could and I didn't know why but it felt as though my body couldn't keep up. Pure adrenaline. It wouldn't have been different if I had jumped out of a plane without a parachute. It was like my body was a car and it was going out of control, having the accelerator to the floor and trying to hold the emergency brake. These attacks are very crippling. My heart would always beat extremely fast. Sometimes I'd experience being very hot and then very cold. I'd feel tingling, shortness of breath, butterflies. It would leave me crawling on the floor desperate for someone to help me. The phone was my crutch, so were my mom and the medicine that I take for anxiety. I remember almost having a panic attack if I were out and realized I had left my phone or my medicine at home. During horrible episodes that occur, you're absolutely sure you're dying. It can feel like a very long time in pure hell. Then you don't die, and you feel like somehow you must have cheated fate one last time. Will you succeed the next? Everyone is convinced but you.
Due to family issues, changing schools every couple of years and moving from one parent to the other I started experiencing panic attacks around 15. At least that's the first time I remember having the classic symptoms. At the time I had no idea what it was. I thought I was dying. Then after graduating HS they started happening far more frequently. I finally saught treatment through talk therapy, cognitive therapy and anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs. Now I know how to recognize an onset of an anxiety attack and talk myself out of it. Exercise is a huge help as well. I try for a 1/2 hr a day, everyday. And I'm still taking medication (Lexapro) which is the best one for me. I'll probably have to take it the rest of my life. I've accepted that fact, though I also now have the mental skills to back it up. There's no reason to continue suffering with anxiety in this day and age. Find what works best for you!
I suffer from panic attacks. They are as terrible as you say they are. They started happening out of no where just as you describe and seem to have come from years of piling of everyday stresses. My last major panic attack actually happened in my Dr's office but I was not cared for as my psychiatrist cares for me. They took my heart rate and monitored me for the next 40 minutes. They let me walk out of the office dizzy and unsure if I could drive. It seems as though some Dr's like my own Family Dr. see this a lot and do not take into account that panic disorder could be dangerous. I am glad I sought help from a psychiatrist and if anyone has had similar experiences they should do the same.
Yes, I have suffered panic attacks in the past. The only problem with that is, if you're a woman with any history of panic attacks, as soon as a doctor hears that you've had them before they dismiss any possible real ailment and think it's all nerves or all in your head. Doctors need to take women's health concerns more seriously, as we are very in tune with our bodies. They need to look beyond our emotions and really make sure nothing bad is going on physically. Too many of us have been misdiagnosed based on judgements like this.
I seem to have inherited a bit of anxiety from my mother's side of the family. I've had a touch of OCD since at least puberty I think (which wouldn't be so bad if not for the germ phobia... some days are worse than others). Sometime in the middle of high school, I developed a panic disorder (which went undiagnosed because I tended to underestimate how bad it was, figuring there were people out there worse than me). For four years I had to deal with many nights where i just couldn't sleep, I feared being left alone in case an attack hit, I cut out a lot of movies, TV shows, and even foods tha I used to like because I had an attack when one of those things was present. When my parents started to worry, I just assumed they were bothered by me bein awake and pacing all night, so Id wait until they were asleep, then sneak out quietly to lie on the couch with the cats, since staring at the ceiling there somehow seemed better than doing so in my room. When we finally decided to take me to a doctor, I wasn't sure how to describe it, and again I trivialized it, not realizing what I had was a real problem (despite the lack of sleep it was causing) - other people out there had far worse than me, so why should I complain? So it was suggested I try Benadryl to sleep before I went on to more expensive methods.

By college it was so bad that I ad to throw up almost every time I had an attack. Luckily, my boyfriend was surprisingly calm as I went into a terrible panic attack on our first date. I felt ill, everything went numb, and he had to remind me to breathe lest I stop altogether. it's really strange that a person can totally forget to breathe, but you can.

I was lucky, I guess. My boyfriend is one of those very intelligent people who is good at giving almost any kind of advice. The university's counselors kept telling me to stop my thoughts when they became overwhelming. My boyfriend decided, since that had not worked, perhaps I should try the opposite. Let the thoughts come, even the ones related to whatever is triggering me at the time, and if it is something that can be rationalized by thinking "okay, so what's the worst that can happen?" then do so. If not, just let it float around in there for a while, get used to it, and because you're not pushing it away, suddenly it becomes less threatening. To make myown analogy, it's like before, when I was trying to put a halt to those thoughts, they were "hunting" me, which increased my fear of them. Feeling like I had to stop them, when I wasn't succeeding, only caused me mre anxiety. When I decided to let those thoughts stick around, focusing instead on treating it as nonthreatening, I might not get to a complete calm, but it was calm enough to sleep. So it worked for me.

Now I'm not having attacks to that intensity anymore - I haven't in at least two years, thanks to that advice. But I am still a bit more high strung than many others around me. My mother's theory is that I must have inherited a bit from her (she has a few obsessive-compulsive type behaviors, and can be nervous at times but nothing like what I have), and that maybe the epilepsy I had as a child did something in my developing brain that caused me to be more sensitive to certain things, hence why my anxiety problems are more intense than hers. Either way, even now that it's milder it's still hard to live with - I don't adapt well to new situations, and last Thanksgiving was the first time in about 6 years I let myself watch the X-Files again (that being one of the favorite shows I gave up for the sakeof my sleeping habits).

The worst part, I think, is that not only do yo have the anxiet to contend with, but als how other people react to it. People often will accuse you of being overly dramatic, when it's not really something you can control easily. People still tell me I should stop getting so upset about certain things, and I have to wonder - is it really that easy for "normal" people to just stop? I'm not sure I'll ever know.
Once after a series of very unfortunate events in a very short period of time I began to have anxiety and panic attacks. I didn't realize that's what they were at first and finally I went to the doctor because I was having chest pains and difficulty breathing. After an examination he began to ask me what was going on in my life and then told me that physically there was nothing wrong with me. He referred me to a therapist and informed me that he believed I was having anxiet attacks.
I went to the therapist and we spoke. He asked me if I felt that I needed to be medicated, which I said no. Then he suggested several other options like getting out of the house more, even if just by myself. Go for a long walk, go to the movies- do things that I liked to do even if I had to do them alone. He also informed me that I should try to integrate more exercise into my life because it'll make you feel better and it's a good outlet for many people. I did these things and checked out a few books that were positive. It was difficult at first because I didn't feel like it, but I knew I had to in order to feel better. I made an attempt to stay away from things that were overly negative and it wasn't an incredibly long time before I began to feel better. My chest stopped hurting all of the time; I could breath again. It was nice to have someone there to recognize that my life was overwhelmed with stress. I didn't feel like I had to be incredibly strong or mask my feelings on the subject and it was nice to have someone acknowledge that sometimes life is difficult and suggest some outlets.
Hi Sanjay,

Being on holidays after my first year of college, back in 1995, I started developing what later was diagnosed as 'panic attack'. I visited several doctors and it took a long time before I was properly diagnosed.
After that, I didn't have serious attacks, but I have followed the indications of my doctors and I try to stick to cognitive-behavioral techniques and some medication to keep anxiety at bay (all these prescribed by my doctor).

Perhaps as a question for a next blog post, I leave the topic of long-term medication. Even if I taper off the dose carefully over several months, anxiety seems to come back, so my doctor decided to keep me on a 'maintenance dose'. It seems wise, but sometimes I wonder whether there are problem with long term exposure to SSRI's and benzos (even if the last ones are administered in very low doses).
Great segment and great responses. I've suffered from anxiety, panic, and fear for years and finally got help and was on medication for about a year. Today I am doing great and off meds, and even out of therapy. I have an entire new outlook on life. It was amazing watching your segment b/c I know Kevin Penwell (and his penname Lee Wellman) and has read his new book My Quarter-Life Crisis (www.leewellman.com). Great book and it truly helped in my recovery. Highly recommended. Thanks for profiling such a triumphant story that gives us all hope.
I started having panic attacks when I was 21, after recovering from a fairly severe case of food poisoning. They'd happen a couple of times a day.

I'd get the normal signs of panic, the shakiness, the increased heart rate, etc. I knew when one was about to happen because it felt like my head was expanding. I don't know that I can describe that feeling to anyone who hasn't felt it. I'd have to go find the nearest friend or family member, and only then would the feelings start to subside. The worst attack came while stuck in traffic on the Blue Route. The urge to get out of the car and just run back home was nearly overwhelming.

I knew I got them because I didn't want to be alone or away from a hosptital if I got sick again, a throwback to the conditions surrounding my food poisoning (involving a three hour car ride where my boyfriend thought I was over-reacting to car-sickness).

I also knew that I needed professional help if I wanted to be able to function normally again. I think I was lucky to find a good therapist who helped me overcome my psyche after only three or months of attacks.
I was glad to see Dr. Gupta this morning dealing with this subject. I diagnosed myself after countless therapists said anxiety was not my problem but something else. Out of desperation, I Googled anxiety disorder and came up with the aada.org website where I found my current therapist. At age 60 I am dealing with issues that I should have dealt with decades ago. However, there were no psychiatrists that (a) would listen to the patient and (b) suspend their theories to fit the diagnostic facts and symptoms that I presented. On the aada.org website, I found something that said this type of anxiety starts mid-teens. That is true with me. However, I always encountered therapists that said problems do not start that late. My problem was when I was four years old. When I protested, the rejoinder was that the trauma was so deeply buried that I am in denial about it. What a racket!! How do these people get their licenses. Hooray for Dr. Gupta and CNN. I feel more normal already.
I have suffered from severe panic disorder/agoraphobia for 6 years, since I was 12 years old. It has been a long hard struggle but it is finally over. What helped me was drinking before getting exposure to things that would cause me to panic. I know it's bad to self-medicate with alcohol but this is what really worked for me. It's not necessary to get drunk, but having just one drink or two really allows you to handle the situation. Paxil has also eliminated my sense of vertigo and derealization. Now I am able to go on trips without fear. I am even planning to fly, something which I had never thought I would be able to do again. Good luck everyone. I never really thought I would be cured, but it's finally over.
I just turned 30 and have finally realized today, after reading all of the stories listed in your blog, that i suffer from panic attacks, anxiety, lowered self esteem and depression, and I am not alone.
I have tried so hard to kick these feelings by myself, and have realized I cannot do it alone. I had my first panic attack a few weeks ago, my hands went numb, I felt dizzy, sick to my stomach, and had terrible tunnel vision. I had another one a few days ago. Had I not seen this blog I don't think I would be seeking professional help, but today, I am. I wish others with similar problems the best of luck in living happy and healthy lives.
I first experienced a panic attack while sitting at a meeting during work. I felt like my whole body "dropped", felt a feeling I can only describe as being lightheaded. My department was going through a transition and I was left with a big responsibility. I took a couple of days off approved immediately by my director who I later discovered suffered from a similar ailment. The first few days after and the months to come were terrifying. I tried to go on as usual, but discovered that I couldn't. I was driving on the highway on my way to work when I felt an attack and had to get off and parked at the nearest rest stop. I could not bring myself to get back on the road for hours!

In the process of understanding this new condition I was experiencing, I met numerous people who suffered a similar conditions including my younger brother.

I tried Biofeedback one to twice a week along with Paxil. Both treatments combined seemed to decrease my anxiety symptoms, but I was still very new to my new diagnosis and had a lot of understanding to do.

After a couple of months, I stopped the treatments. Within a year, my anxiety symptoms came back full blown and worse. I was having difficulty sleeping and had difficulty concentrating. I started a new medication Effexor XR along with Biofeedback and Mind-Body Program that included meditation, Yoga, and Energy Healing with Massage. It was the best thing I've ever done, though quite expensive.

After 1 and 1/2 year being on medication, I felt I was "cured". I learned how to calm my body and regain the confidence to do so. To date, I still have and suffer from anxiety, but the difference is now I am able to cope with the symptoms and snap out of them. I've learned to rely on my faith, my relaxing techniques, and coping skills to get me through my everyday. I still have my bad days, but I always seem to get through them somehow and then I have my good days.

My advise to others who have similar experiences is to focus on the positives, keep laughing, and know that there is an end to the bad days...you have to know what works for you, use them and know when to ask for help.
I had panic attack 5 times and went to ER because I thought I had heart attack. I fighted for 1.5 year and it went away ( 98%) by medication (Clonazepam , which is better than Lorazepam for drug depedency) and Yoga ( breathing and stretching, relaxation). My sister and family did not think it's a medical issue that need to be treated by medication but a mental state of mind. Many people like my sister do believe so and that is why they did not seak help fom doctor. Best doctor to get this treatment is Psychiatrist.
I have suffered from panic attacks for the past two years and tried all sorts of medications. They were quick fixes that never lasted long. FINALLY after cognitive behavioral therapy and a great book called Feeling Good by David Burns, I am feeling like my old self again. I would highly recommend to anyone currently on medications (I was on Xanax, Lexapro, Wellbutrin, Trazadone) to find a therapist that has a Ph.D. and practices cognitive behavioral therapy. I can honestly say that my therapy sessions, and that book, saved my life...all without medication. I still get really minor episodes from time to time, but the techniques that I learned in my sessions help me stop the anxiety within minutes, if not seconds. Good luck!
Hi Everyone,

I have had an anxiety disorder that has crippled me and stopped me from doing so much in my life, but just recently that began to change. The reason is because I read a book called "Embracing Your Inner Critic" by Hal and Sidra Stone. I have come to realize that panic and anxiety may be caused by differing things in different people, but I had depression to top it all off, and this book has brought me such incredible relief I cannot begin to tell you. So many amazing comments from people on this site, I just knew I had to let you all know about what worked for me, and again it was a book. Your Inner Critic and Perfectionist 'sides' will work you up into a frenzy, and I am so certain that it is responsible for %70 of anxiety disorders. Lastly, I am on two types of medication also. In Australia, they are known as Cypramil and Epilim. Good Luck to you all and look on the internet under 'Inner Critic' and 'Voice Dialogue', especially if you have anxiety!
wow..u just made me feel better ,wen i realised that there r many who...get these kind of panic attack but unfortunately....the next time u get it u forget all these..u ought to train smbdy who has gone tru the same trauma 2 treat these patients/my name is anand/anandohm@yahoo.co.in
Greetings, Anxious Brothers and Sisters, I just have to tell everyone that if you have been prone to panic attacks in the past, you will always be susceptible-even after many years without an attack. To wit: after months of intense stress, I had the first of four attacks in a two-week period after a St. Patrick's Day bash at which I consumed too much booze. That was the trigger for this phase. I guess all the stress-relief I was searching for in ten pints of Guinness boomeranged on me! For several months, however, I have had warning signs, including regular hypnic jerking (i.e., sleep starts whih jolt one awake). For the first time, I awakened by a speeding pulse, which wound down to 60 BPM after 15 min of telling myself that I don't have a short-circuiting electrical system in my heart or massively-clogged arteries. After all, I went for a thorough exam before begining a running program a year ago! Self-talk helps keep the panic at bay, which is something to keep in mind if the anxiety morphs into new symptoms as it did for me with being shocked out of my sleep. Feeling better, though. A few days of doing nothing, reviewing my nutty, stressful behavior of the last few months, and letting the body recover from the punishment and fatigue brought on by the attacks seems to be doing the trick. Uh-lay off the coffee for a while too. Thinking I was OK, I had a half-cup a few days after the last attack and felt like I just smoked some crystal meth (and I can only imagine what that horrible drug does to peopl's nervous systems!) Cheers.
I am a Psychologist who had panic attacks while working with patients at a mental hospital. I would sweat profusely, turn red and have shaky voice. Medication(Beta-blockers) controlled those physiological symptoms
almost like magic and gradually I became more confident. Now I can speak in front of groups without
anxiety. Medication treatment was the
first step in controlling my panic attacks.
Hey Doc, I have been suffering from panic attacks or panic disorder for about 3 years now and I feel like I can get no relief! I have found no relief through meds or therapy! I feel trapped by this and I'm only 21! I have a daughter on the way and I'm scared my cobdition is going to effect who I am as a father and it scares me! I rarely like being alone and when driving I sometimes have to pull over and try to regain control or get off the exit and head rite back home! I really feel this is effecting my daily life and I'm sick of feeling this way! I'm 21 and I worry about dieing almost everyday! I need some kind of relief please help! Sam Colon
One night watching TV with my fiancee my heart started racing out of no where. I was not sure what was going on, I am a healthy 25 year old male. About an hour later it subsided. The next night the same thing happened. I went to the Doc. the next day ended up after 2 month period having 3 EKG's and a 48 hour holt monitor and everything was fine. I have not been diagnosed with anxiety or panic attacks but I am sure thats what it is. I feel that they were caused from all the stress I have been through in the past 6 months. My Father passed away, our family kind of broke when this happened, I moved out of state and am working a job I do not like.
I know these feelings are horrible, I also experienced a different pain every day it seemed like for a while. Either my chest, back, stomach, throat, there was something everyday that would hurt. My family is doing better and I am moving back home and it seems that I am getting better with the positive things happening now.
I have numerous panic attacks. There was significant trauma in my life as a toddler and little girl. I wouold constantly go to my teacher at school and say "can I talk to you?".. They wouold take me aside as I was shaking and crying and I would tell them I was "scared".. But I never know why. By the time I was 13 years old, they went away...It was wonderful. I finally was a normal kid!!! Then about 23 years old, they came back... Only once every few monts or so.. Now I get up to 2 or 3 a day. I begin to think I have all these symptoms like I feel like my hands are going to lock up or my legs...sometimes I think my jaw is going to lock and I wont be able to speak otr eat (my husband might enjoy the no speaking part).. But realloy, the syptoms feel so very real and it is scary.. I am a stay at home mom to 3 children and we are at least 5 hours from any family.. so it can become very depressing. We have tried to move and my husband would commute but every attempt was brought to a screaching halt.. so here we are and here I am with these rediculous panic attacks. has anyone had it this severe before?????
To Joyce Mitchell...

I too have had agoraphobia and panic for many years. I cannot stand people behind me. I also cannot drive on any road over 40 mph. I'm also guessing you don't like roller coasters. We have a need to be in control. If there is no shoulder to pull over to, we sub-consciously feel that we aren't in control and there is eminent danger present.
Guess what, though? I'm fed up with living in fear! 2 Days ago, I spoke aloud. I am not scared anymore! Panic has no place in my life, and I will be successful! Repeat it to yourself until you CRY! I have not gone on the freeway yet, but I am no longer afraid of cars behind me! This is truly the beginning of a miracle. I have in the past 2 days driven further than I have in almost 10 years. It felt so good to be miles and miles away from home and just stand there. Speak your wellness into existence. I give all my praise to God and His son Jesus for keeping the Holy Spirit present with me. GOOD LUCK... your blessing is waiting, it's YOU that needs to come forward.
It's amazing how many people suffer with panic attacks for years and years before finally seeking treatment.

Truth is... panic attacks are highly treatable these days.

Thanks for the article. :)
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