A panic attack is when an individual experiences an onset of intense bodily sensations, such as: rapid and/or pounding hear rate, shortness of breath, dizziness, lightheaded, shaking, trembling, nausea, sweating, hot and/or cold flashes. It is not necessary to experience all of these at one time, but generally panic attacks are comprised of 4 or more of these sensations. Panic attacks can occur in any anxiety disorder, such as Social Phobia, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. However, when the focus of an individual’s fear is the panic attack itself, and when the panic attack occurs out of the blue, the individual is considered to have Panic Disorder.
Most individuals with Panic Disorder mistake the panic attack for a heart attack, impending fainting, losing control or going crazy. Consequently the panic attack is feared. Typically, situations where it could be dangerous to have a panic attack (e.g. driving) or where escape or getting help could be difficult (e.g. elevators, airplanes, crowds) are avoided.