Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
"All of a sudden, I felt a tremendous wave of fear for no reason at
all. My heart was pounding, my chest hurt, and it was getting harder to
breathe. I thought I was going to die."
"I'm so afraid. Every time I start to go out, I get that awful feeling in the pit of my stomach and I'm terrified that another panic attack is coming or that some other, unknown terrible thing was going to happen."
What are panic attacks?
Panic attacks may be symptoms of an anxiety disorder. These attacks are a
serious health problem in the U.S. At least 20% of adult Americans, or about 60
million people, will suffer from panic attacks at some point in their lives.
About 1.7% of adult Americans, or about 3 million people, will have full-blown
panic disorder at some time in their lives, twice as often for women than men. The peak age at which people have their first panic attack (onset) is 15-19 years. Another fact about panic is that this symptom is strikingly different from other types of anxiety; panic attacks are so very sudden and often unexpected, appear to be unprovoked, and are often disabling.
Childhood panic disorder facts include that about 0.7% of children suffer from
panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder and that although panic is found
to occur twice as often in women compared to men, boys and girls tend to
experience this disorder at an equal frequency.
Once someone has had a panic attack, for example, while driving, shopping in a crowded store, or riding in an elevator, he or she may develop irrational fears, called phobias, about these situations and begin to avoid them. Eventually, the pattern of avoidance and level of anxiety about another attack may reach the point at which the mere idea of
engaging in the activities that preceded the first panic attack triggers future panic attacks, resulting in the individual with panic disorder being unable to drive or even step out of the house. At this stage, the person is said to have panic disorder with agoraphobia. Thus, there are two types of panic disorder, panic disorder with or without agoraphobia. Like other major illnesses, panic disorder can have a serious impact on a person's daily life unless the individual receives effective treatment.
Panic attacks in children may result in the child's grades declining, avoiding school and other separations from parents, as well as substance abuse, depression, and suicidal thoughts, plans, and/or actions.
Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Panic attacks are sudden feelings of terror that strike
without warning. These episodes can occur at any time, even during sleep. A person
experiencing a panic attack may believe that he or she is having a heart attackor that death
is imminent. The fear and terror that a person experiences during a panic attack
are not in proportion to the true situation and may be unrelated to what is
happening around them. Most people with panic attacks experience several of the
Feeling weak, faint, or dizzy
Tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers
Sense of terror, of impending doom or death
Feeling sweaty or having chills
Feeling a loss of control
Panic attacks are generally brief, lasting less than ten
minutes, although some of the symptoms may persist for a longer time. People who
have had one panic attack are at greater risk for having subsequent panic
attacks than those who have never experienced a panic attack. When the attacks
occur repeatedly, a person is considered to have a condition known as Panic