Panic Attack Symptoms

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stoppler, 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 attack or 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 following symptoms:

  • "Racing" heart
  • 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
  • Chest pains
  • Breathing difficulties
  • 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 Disorder.

People with panic disorder may be extremely anxious and fearful, since they are unable to predict when the next episode will occur. Panic Disorder is fairly common and affects about 2.4 million people in the U.S., or 1.7% of the adult population between the ages of 18 and 54. Women are twice as likely as men to develop the condition, and its symptoms usually begin in early adulthood.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/1/2014