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. 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. If you are 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. 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. 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 with anxiety, though.
- Different triggers. Anxiety attacks tend to be a result of gradual triggers. Like stress at a job or home. Panic attacks often come out of the blue, without warning. The exception to this rule is phobias. Panic attacks may be triggered by phobias, which are often irrational fears.
- Different symptoms. 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. Fears of panicking in public can lead to isolation or avoidance behaviors. 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 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, “Can you die of a panic attack?” It is often difficult to discover what 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:
- Genetic Predisposition. 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 one’s 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 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 in conjunction with genetic predisposition.
- Medical problems. 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.
- Drug use. Stimulants like amphetamines, cocaine and even caffeine can trigger panic attacks. 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, always 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, “Can you die from a panic attack?” Here’s 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, 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 to fend off a threat. But during a panic attack, it’s supremely unhelpful, as there is no threat.
- Increased heartrate. Because of the adrenaline, your heart rate increases. This causes blood to flow to all of your muscles and can give you a fluttery feeling in your chest.
- Breathing increases. 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. 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 attack wonder, “Can you die from a panic attack?”
How long can a panic attack last?
Among the questions besides can you die from a panic attack, are usually how long can it 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 as long as thirty, but rarely longer than that. It’s important to note though, that everyone is different and it is possible to have 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 attack will last between 10-30 minutes. It is rare for them to continue for longer than that, but they may come in waves.
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, but also in public places. It is not uncommon for those with a panic disorder to become isolated.
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:
- 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 tightness in your throat. This may also be mistaken for heart attack symptoms.
- Hot flashes
- 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 sufferers to believe they are having a heart attack.
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness
- Numbness or 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 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, causes you to panic even more. Controlling your breathing will 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 the air in 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. 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, through online therapy. Online therapy can be done in the comfort of your own home, on your schedule. Through online therapy, you will be matched with a counselor who can meet your needs and help you overcome the frequency and duration of your panic attacks.