Menopausal or pregnant women are more likely to experience panic attacks than anyone else. This is because panic attacks can be triggered by hormonal changes or imbalances.
In general panic attacks can be frightening. They typically persist for between 10 to 40 minutes, although some only last a matter of seconds.
The symptoms of a panic attack include paralyzing terror, dry mouth, hyperventilation, trembling and a rapid heart rate. Many women have mistaken the symptoms for a heart attack, although panic attacks cannot be life-threatening.
Although the causes of panic attacks are wide and varied, menopause is an important trigger.
The hormones oestrogen and progesterone work together to regulate mood. The declining levels of these hormones during the menopause mean that a woman at this stage of life is more susceptible to anxiety and other menopausal symptoms. If anxiety is left untreated or severe it can escalate into panic attacks. Repeated panic attacks are called panic disorder. This should be treated by a doctor.
Menopausal hot flushes and sweats can also be socially embarrassing and may contribute to panic attacks in some women.
In addition, the menopausal woman may also be experiencing lifestyle changes such as children leaving home or parents becoming older. These changes are also known to contribute to panic attacks.
Caffeine and alcohol are likely to trigger panic attacks because they stimulate activity in the brain. If you are prone to panic attacks, or you have a family history of panic attacks, then minimising caffeine and alcohol may help reduce the frequency of attacks.
Sleep plays a prominent role in the level of anxiety you are suffering. If you do not sleep well you are far more likely to suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. However, anxiety is also a cause for lack of sleep, and so the vicious circle continues. If you are affected by this, our sleep hygiene tips may help you.
It is important to relax. While it is easy to say ‘calm down’, this is a lot more difficult to actually achieve. Breathing plays a prominent role in panic attacks, and being able to slow your breathing down is important as this can lessen the severity of an attack. There are several techniques such as hypnotherapy, yoga and meditation which have proven results for helping to achieve this.
Exercise has been shown to help reduce the frequency of panic attacks. It uses up any excess energy, it promotes better sleep, it helps with hormone regulation and it encourages good breathing techniques.
Drink plenty of water to stay well hydrated, as experiencing a dry mouth may feel like the start of a panic attack and cause anxiety that then triggers a real attack.
Many menopausal women look to herbal remedies to help with their panic attacks. These include:
- Passiflora – this is a plant native to South America and the East Indies. It was traditionally used as a nerve tonic
- Valarian root - this contains a number of plant components with calming effects on the nervous system. It can be found as an ingredient in licensed herbal remedies in tincture form such as Stress Relief Daytime and Dormeasan® Sleep
- Emergency Essence – this contains a combination of flower essences and is designed to help out in an emergency such as a panic attack.
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If you do not find home remedies or herbal remedies effective, then it may be worth talking to your doctor for advice. This is also the case if you are experiencing regular and severe panic attacks. Your doctor may prescribe antidepressants, sedatives, or encourage you to consult a psychologist.
This week on A.Vogel Talks Menopause I explain how the Mirena Coil and progesterone-only pill can affect your menopause. I also take a look at what can happen after a hysterectomy and explain how surgical menopause can differ from a natural menopause.
Missed one? Watch them all on my menopause blog.
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