Panic attack symptoms

Panic attacks can be lead to a wide range of physical and emotional symptoms.


Panic attacks are sudden periods with symptoms of acute anxiety, fear or feelings of apprehension. They are usually brief (lasting less than 15 minutes) and symptoms usually resolve without the need of any treatment.

Panic attacks can give rise to a wide range of symptoms. They usually come about as a result of being under stress or following receipt of bad news.

People prone to panic attacks also experience symptoms of anxiety before attacks take place, but this is not always the case. Symptoms of panic attacks overlap a great deal with those of stress and anxiety.

This page provides more information on the most common symptoms of panic attacks.

Many people suffering panic attacks will want to know what can be done to help themselves.

Follow the link for panic attack treatment for more information.

Physical symptoms of panic attacks

The physical symptoms of panic attacks are similar to those of anxiety but are more severe or acute.

Symptoms arise because of the body’s natural response to danger, known as the ‘fight or flight’ reaction. This normal response releases ‘stress’ chemicals into the blood stream and lead to a number of physical symptoms such as:

  • Faster heartbeat (causing pounding of the heart)
  • Shortness or quickening of breath (hyperventilation)
  • Difficulty breathing (trouble taking a deep breath)
  • Difficulty swallowing (a choking sensation)
  • Muscle tension (giving rise to muscle cramps, pain in the neck or shoulders)
  • Feeling faint and nauseated
  • Sweating and flushing
  • Dry mouth
  • Tingling all over

To an onlooker, the most obvious symptom marking a panic attack is quick and shallow breathing. This is known as hyperventilation (excessive or too much breathing) and can give rise to symptoms of tingling starting from the ends of the fingers and toes, as well as muscle spasms or cramps (usually in the hands).

The reason for this is that breathing too quickly reduces the carbon dioxide levels in the blood, changing the acidity in the body which in turn, affects the way nerves and muscles function.

Panic attack symptoms are more pronounced than those of anxiety. However, the good news (if there is any) is that they are relatively brief, usually lasting just a few minutes. If you feel that the symptoms of your panic attacks last longer than 15 minutes, you should seek the advice of a doctor.

Emotional symptoms of panic attacks

Symptoms of panic attacks usually come as single or isolated episodes when one is under a bit more stress or over-excited, and do not tend to recur or return. In these circumstances, most people who suffer these episodes overcome the surprise of the symptoms quickly, without problems.

However, people who are more prone to stress and anxiety may suffer from recurrent or frequent panic attacks. These can worsen their feelings of anxiety, leading to:

  • Loss of self-confidence or self-esteem
  • Feeling irritable, impatient, short-tempered, restless or ‘on-edge’
  • Becoming prone to being negative, worried, feeling low in mood or depressed
  • Having a sense that ‘something is about to go wrong’
  • Poor concentration, easily distracted, having a poor memory
  • Feeling you can’t cope with normal everyday pressures
  • Relying more on alcohol, cigarettes in order to cope with the symptoms

If you suffer from panic attacks and experience the emotional symptoms described above, you should see your doctor.

Further reading:
Panic attacks
Panic attacks treatment

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