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  1. What is a panic attack?
  2. What are the risk factors of a panic attack?
  3. What are the symptoms of a panic attack?
  4. Treatment for panic attacks
  5. Support for panic attacks

A panic attack is sudden and you will feel an intense fear which will then trigger physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, shortness of breath, sweating, trembling, confusion or dizziness

In most cases there is no real danger from the panic attack, however they can be very frightening for the individual concerned. You are not alone if you experience panic attacks, they are very common.

Having panic attacks does not mean that you have panic disorder. Many people will experience some panic attacks throughout their lifetime and for most they will go away.

However, if you are having recurrent, unexpected panic attacks and you notice that you appear to be worrying for long periods about having another panic attack, this may indicate that you have a Panic Disorder.

We would encourage you to speak with your GP for further supportive consultation, clarification and diagnosis.

Risk factors

Panic disorder can often start in childhood or adolescence and, as with all anxiety disorders, previous adverse childhood experiences or witnessing traumatic past events can significantly increase your exposure to anxiety disorders.

At times you may not know why you are having panic attacks. However, for most there may be underlying concerns, some of which are listed below.

  • Someone else in your family may have panic attacks or panic disorder.
  • You may have experienced a major life event, for example having a baby, living with a violent partner, history of sexual abuse, loss of a job or a breakdown of a significant relationship.
  • Bereavement or loss of a loved one
  • Bullying, harassment, fear or intimidation
  • Exposure to violence
  • Addiction or dependence to substances
  • Excessive drinking/smoking and taking too much caffeine or other stimulants
  • Inappropriate medications either prescribed or non prescribed

Symptoms of a Panic Attack

Panic attacks are not life-threatening. However, when you are experiencing a panic attack it can feel that way and some people think they may be having a heart attack.

If you have any doubt that what you are experiencing is not a panic attack, please contact the emergency services and seek appropriate medical treatment and advice.

It is equally important to know that there are very effective and successful treatments for panic attacks.


If you are worried about having this condition then the first step is to speak to your GP or if you are worried about someone else, encourage them to speak to their GP.

Mental illness, like any physical illness such as cancer, stroke or Parkinson’s Disease should be taken seriously and can only be diagnosed by a medical professional.

Once diagnosed you may be offered the following based on your needs at that time:

Medication:- antidepressants, mood stabilisers and/or anti-psychotics, depending on your mood
Talking therapy:- counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), etc
Hospital admission:- where the condition is severe and/or where you are unable to keep yourself safe:

  • Referral to a Community Mental Health Team
  • Referral to Community and Voluntary services or support groups

Self-Help Tips

In addition to what is outlined above, there are things you can do to manage these mood changes and to take care of yourself, such as:

Download self-help apps from Playstore including “Whats Up App” or “21 Days” both of which have fantastic self-help tips for moderating and regulating mood and emotions.

Useful links

Here are some small steps you can take to keep on top of our mental wellbeing and cope during times of uncertainty.

Finding a service for you

You can locate details of the Extern's mental health services which may be near you here.