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?
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