Anxiety Disorders are painstakingly common in the United States and other countries around the world. In fact, according to Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 18% of adults suffer with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety and panic attacks tend to go hand in hand with one another. So, if you suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, you may wonder, “can you die from a panic attack?”
So, what is it?
Can you die from a panic attack? This question sits at the heart of many anxiety sufferers.
Well, if you’re living in constant fear of death, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
To understand whether you can die from a panic attack, it’s important to first understand what a panic attack is.
A panic attack is a severe episode of fear. This fear brings on a physical reaction, even though there is no true danger present.
They come on suddenly and are a result of a perceived threat. However, what differentiates a panic attack from normal fear is that there is no imminent danger.
A person experiencing a panic attack believes there is imminent danger, even though there isn’t.
What is the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack?
Many people use the phrases, “anxiety attack” and “panic attack” interchangeably.
It is understandable how the two may be confused, due to the similar names. This interchangeable use, however, is incorrect. Let’s take a look at some of the main differences.
The level of severity and timing
One of the main differences between anxiety and panic is the level of severity. Anxiety tends to be a gradual occurrence.
You can experience anxiety as you go about your day, with rising levels throughout the day.
By contrast, panic attacks tend to come suddenly, without warning, and are extremely disruptive.
It is unlikely that you will be able to function in the midst of a panic attack.
One may be able to function to some degree with anxiety, though.
Anxiety attacks tend to be a result of gradual triggers such as stress at work or at home.
By contrast, panic attacks often come out of the blue and without warning. The exception to this rule is phobias.
Panic attacks may be triggered by phobias, which are often irrational fears.
During a panic attack, physical symptoms are severe. Fight-or-flight systems take over, causing a surge of adrenaline.
This response creates intense physical symptoms. That’s why so many people wonder, “can you die from a panic attack?” – because the physical sensations are so intense.
With an anxiety attack, the anxiety is usually the main symptom.
What’s going on in the brain.
Changes in behavior
Because of the severe symptoms of panic attacks, many people change their behavior to avoid them.
Fear of panicking in public can lead to isolation or avoidance behavior. Other panic attack sufferers may avoid situations where they fear a panic attack could occur.
Either way, behavior changes usually coincide with panic attacks.
Anxiety usually doesn’t tend to lead to such abrupt changes.
What triggers panic attacks?
Triggers are another important thing to think about when answering the question of, “can you die of a panic attack?”
It is often difficult to discover what causes panic attacks in the moment. However, we do know some reasons why panic attacks start occurring in the lives of sufferers.
Here’s some possible causes:
Although this is not always the case, panic attacks tend to run in families.
This evidence suggests genetic predisposition may be at play in regards to our likelihood of developing panic attacks.
Major life changes
Major life changes may trigger panic attacks in a person. Even good stress is stress.
So, things like getting married, having a baby or moving house are possible factors.
Severe stress or trauma
This is a big one. Things like the death of a loved one, job loss, housing and financial difficulties and other severe stressors can trigger panic attacks.
Experiencing major trauma can also be a factor, especially when this is seen in conjunction with a genetic predisposition.
It’s important to see a doctor to rule out any medical causes of panic attacks. Things like hypoglycemia, hyperthyroidism and hormonal changes may trigger panic attacks.
Reach out to your medical provider if you suspect an underlying medical condition may be the cause.
Stimulants like amphetamines, cocaine and even caffeine can trigger panic attacks.
On that score, though, even depressant drugs are capable of causing panic attacks.
Things like marijuana and opioids may cause panic attacks in certain individuals.
Taking a look at your medicine cabinet may be the solution.
As always when making a change to your medical situation, you should consult your primary care physician.
What happens to your body during an attack?
Another important thing to understand is what happens to your body during a panic attack.
This will further help us answer the question of, “can you die from a panic attack?”
Here are a few things that happen to your body during a panic attack.
Your fight or flight response reacts
When you are put in a threatening situation, your nervous system responds to protect you.
This is called your fight or flight response. During a panic attack, this nervous system response occurs seemingly spontaneously and without the existence of a threat.
Surge of adrenaline
Due to your nervous system response, adrenaline floods your body. This hormone gives you the energy and level of alertness you need to fend off a threat.
But, during a panic attack, it’s supremely unhelpful as there is no threat in the first place!
Increased heart rate
Because of the adrenaline, your heart rate increases.
This causes blood to flow to all of your muscles in preparation for a response (i.e. preparing your muscles to run or fight the danger) and can give you a fluttery feeling in your chest.
You may notice that, during a panic attack, your breathing becomes faster. This is the body’s attempt at obtaining more oxygen to help you ward off danger.
All of these reactions occur because your body is preparing to defend you.
This stems back to our days as a primitive species, when threats such as predators were very much real and a common occurrence.
Though these are all normal stress responses, the physical sensations are terrifying when there is no real danger.
A person experiencing a panic attack will still feel all the physical sensations, even though they aren’t in trouble.
A person reacting to a bear charging them will likely experience the same sensations.
It’s no wonder so many people experiencing panic attacks wonder whether they can die from a panic attack.
How long can a panic attack last?
Among the questions that people commonly ask about panic attacks, besides from the obvious one of whether you can die from a panic attack, is: “how long can a panic attack last?”
In the midst of an attack, it may seem that it will last forever. This is very unlikely though.
The good news is that most panic attacks are fairly short.
Panic attacks tend to peak within about ten minutes. They may go on for as long as thirty minutes, but rarely longer than that.
It’s important to note, though, that everyone is different and it is possible to have a panic attack that lasts a longer, or shorter, amount of time.
Although panic attacks are typically no longer than thirty minutes, you can have multiple attacks. These attacks may occur in waves that last for an hour, or even longer.
The bottom line is that most panic attacks will last between 10-30 minutes. It is rare for them to co
ntinue for longer than that, but they may come in waves which can make them seem longer.
The physical sensations of panic attacks should subside after the attack, but other symptoms may linger longer.
Fatigue and tension ion the muscles are common after a panic attack. These sensations are normal, as the individual just experienced an intense event.
Another sensation that may linger is fear and anxiety in general.
Those with a panic disorder may worry or obsess over the possibility of another attack.
This can cause high anxiety at home as well as in public places.
Thus, it is not uncommon for those with a panic disorder to isolate themselves from the rest of the world.
How do I know if I had a panic attack?
To know if you are having panic attacks, you must look at the symptoms. The main symptom is the suddenness of the attack.
A panic attack will produce sudden and intense fear, almost always without warning.
Some other symptoms to look out for when self-diagnosing are:
- A sense of impending doom or danger. Something is wrong. You don’t know what it is but something is wrong or is going to happen.
- Fear of losing control or of death. You feel you are losing control or experience an intense fear that you’re going to die.
- Rapid, pounding heart rate. Many panic attack sufferers mistake the increase in heart rate for heart attacks. This often leads to hospital visits and can cause misdiagnoses.
- Sweating of the hands, neck, armpits and head.
- Trembling or shaking. This may be limited to just the hands, or the entire body.
- Shortness of breath or a tightness in your throat. This may also be mistaken for a heart attack symptom.
- Hot flushes
- Nausea and occasional vomiting can occur.
- Abdominal cramping and diarrhea
- Chest pain. This, in conjunction with shortness of breath and a pounding heart. also causes many panic attack sufferers to believe they are having a heart attack.
- Dizziness, light-headedness or faintness
- Numbness or a tingling sensation
- Feeling of unreality or detachment
It’s important to remember that, although these symptoms are likely related to panic, any medial concerns should always be addressed. It is better to be safe than sorry!
Always talk to your doctor or contact emergency services if you believe you are in a health crisis.
Can you die from a panic attack?
Now that you know everything there is to know about panic attacks, it’s time to answer the question: can you die from a panic attack?
In short? No.
Although panic attack symptoms may feel like a heart attack or other serious disorder, it cannot kill you.
This is a great truth to hold onto in the midst of a panic attack. Although it’s scary, it cannot kill you.
How to Calm a Panic Attack
As long as you’ve ruled out any medical reasons you are having panic attacks, there are a few things you can try to calm them.
One of the best things you can do is to be intentional about telling yourself that you’ll be okay.
You now know the answer. Can you die from a panic attack? No. So, tell yourself that.
During a panic attack, breathing is quickened. This rapid breathing, in conjunction with the other physiological changes occurring, can cause you to panic even more.
However, trying to control your breathing will help to control the panic.
One of the best breathing techniques you can try is box breathing. Here’s how to do it:
1. Find a quiet place to sit where you won’t be disturbed.
2. Exhale all of the air from your lungs.
3. Inhale to the count of four, making sure to count slowly.
4. Hold your breath in your lungs for four counts.
5. Exhale for four counts.
6. Hold your breath for four counts.
7. Repeat, starting with inhalation.
This is a proven technique that will allow you to lower your heart rate and blood pressure, providing an almost instant sense of calm.
In fact, Navy Seals actually practice this technique and use it during stressful situations.
Now that you know how to calm a panic attack in the moment, let’s talk about long-term solutions and prevention.
The most effective way to prevent panic attacks is to get to the source of the problem.
This can be done through therapy. However, many people find it difficult to see a therapist in person.
There’s a solution to this, though, and that is getting help through online therapy instead.
Online therapy can be done in the comfort of your own home and fits in with your schedule.
Through online therapy, you will be matched with a counsellor who can meet your needs and help you overcome the frequency and duration of your panic attacks.
If you are tired of having panic attacks, and ready to tackle the problem, it may be a good idea to try online therapy.
>>You deserve to live a happy, fear-free life. So, try online therapy today.<<