Panic attacks can suddenly trigger someone’s fight-or-flight response and derail their plans for the entire day. But in addition to being uncomfortable and disruptive, are panic attacks dangerous? Can they cause real, physical harm, or are they only capable of inciting fear and anxiety?
Today, we will discuss the symptoms that define a panic attack as well as whether or not they can pose a real danger to the person experiencing them. We will also recommend a few methods for treating panic attacks to minimize their impact on daily life moving forward.
Are You Having a Panic Attack?
Before addressing the question, “Are panic attacks dangerous?” it is crucial to understand how to identify an actual panic attack. Some people equate them to anxiety attacks, when in reality, they are two separate experiences. Knowing what a panic attack looks like can help you understand your own body better as well as know what to expect from potential future attacks.
Common panic attack symptoms include:
- Intense, sudden feelings of fear and anxiety
- Sense of losing control or impending doom
- Racing or pounding heart
- Chest pain
- Nausea or abdominal pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
Moreover, if you experience chronic panic attacks, you may meet the diagnosis criteria for panic disorder. If that’s the case, it is even more important for you to find the answer to, “Are panic attacks dangerous?” and learn the best way to navigate the symptoms above.
Who Experiences Panic Attacks?
Isolated panic attacks can happen to anyone. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that roughly five percent of all adults will experience one at some point in their lives. Furthermore, panic attacks are often triggered at seemingly innocuous moments. Those who experience them regularly report that it feels as though the symptoms “come out of nowhere.”
However, some individuals experience panic attacks far more frequently than that. People with anxiety and those who have lived through a traumatic experience of some kind have a greater risk of developing panic disorder, which—as the name implies—involves a much higher rate of panic attacks.
Are Panic Attacks Dangerous?
Now that you know more about panic disorder and the symptoms of a panic attack, one question remains: Are panic attacks dangerous? The symptoms can be distressing and uncomfortable, especially considering that panic attacks can have such a sudden, unexpected onset. But is there any real danger?
Between exaggerated depictions of panic attacks in the media and a lack of education on mental health, it makes sense for individuals to worry about the dangers of panic attacks. Fortunately, the short answer is no. Panic attacks may make someone feel as though they are about to die, but those thoughts are distorted and do not reflect reality.
The only time panic attacks can put someone in harm’s way involves external, situational factors. For example, if someone has a panic attack while driving down the highway, their risk of having an accident may increase. Otherwise, a panic attack and the bad feelings associated with it are not immediately dangerous.
Can Panic Attacks Lead to Heart Attacks?
Due to certain symptoms of panic attacks like chest pain and elevated heart rate, some people worry that they may be having a heart attack instead. Thus, when they ask, “Are panic attacks dangerous?” they may actually mean to ask, “Are panic attacks ever related to heart attacks?”
First, panic attacks do not cause heart attacks. They may share certain characteristics, but ultimately, the causes of each are unrelated. There is some evidence to suggest that people with panic disorder may be more likely to develop heart disease, but similarly, those who seek treatment for panic disorder are less likely to experience these rare, long-term effects.
Panic Disorder Treatment Options
While the answer to, “Are panic attacks dangerous?” is generally no, panic attacks are still far from a pleasant experience. As such, those who regularly encounter them may wish to seek professional treatment for their symptoms. If you frequently experience panic attacks, consider reaching out to a mental health professional for support.
Unfortunately, panic attacks (and panic disorder at large) cannot be fully “cured” in the traditional sense. However, there are still steps someone can take to decrease the influence they have over their life.
Specifically, treatment for panic disorder focuses on identifying triggering situations, changing distorted thought patterns, and learning how to safely process feelings of fear. To fulfill these goals, someone may utilize a variety of evidence-based treatment options for panic disorder, such as:
- Psychiatric evaluations
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Exposure therapy
- Anti-anxiety medications
- Group therapy
- Physical activity and exercise
- Proactive discharge planning
Ridgeview Behavioral Hospital offers an inpatient psychiatric program in which patients can explore many of the above treatment activities through a singular, cohesive treatment plan. Our comprehensive care plans are available to anyone over the age of 18 who needs help overcoming mental illness.
Whether you have battled panic attacks for years or they have only recently started impacting your life, we can help you find the answers to questions like, “Are panic attacks dangerous?” and, “How do I stop having panic attacks?”
Treat Panic Disorder at Ridgeview Behavioral Hospital
If you or a loved one live with panic disorder or feel as though unexpected panic attacks frequently disrupt your day, consider reaching out for professional help. Ridgeview Behavioral Hospital is a mental health treatment center in Middle Point, Ohio. We are dedicated to helping people with panic disorder, anxiety disorders, and other mental illnesses.
Right now, it may feel as though your symptoms control your life more than you do. However, our inpatient treatment program can teach you how to manage symptoms of panic disorder and decrease your risk of future panic attacks. Combined with the peaceful atmosphere of our retreat-like facility, you can dedicate your sole focus to recovery and self-improvement.