Sudden panic attacks and fear of death

The heart races, the hands sweat and tremble, a lump forms in the throat and the chest becomes tighter and tighter until you can hardly breathe. A panic attack feels like this or something similar. It is accompanied by fear of death. One has the feeling to suffocate or to suffer a heart attack. Anyone who suffers from frequent panic attacks has a panic disorder, everyday life is almost impossible to cope with, therapy is indispensable.

Regular confrontation with fear of death: this is a simple description of panic disorder. In 2011, about 7.9 million people across Europe were affected by. In normal situations, people get physical symptoms and are afraid that this might be it. A physical cause is often sought behind the symptoms, followed by going from doctor to doctor without them finding anything. The fact that it is a mental illness is often only discovered after a long period of suffering.

Panic disorders occur predominantly in women and from the age of 20 onwards. Year of life. 22% of people experience a panic attack at some point in their lives, but one attack does not a disorder make. The likelihood of developing a panic disorder is 5.5% in women and just over 2% in men. If a person suffers from panic disorder, other family members are often affected as well. The cause is not yet fully understood, but life circumstances and genetic disposition probably play a role.

Symptoms of a panic attack

A panic attack occurs on several levels: First, physical symptoms occur quite suddenly and unexpectedly. These include:

  • Heart problems (palpitations, heart palpitations)
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Faint feeling
  • trembling
  • Breathlessness
  • Tightness in the chest
  • lump in the throat
  • Chest or abdominal pain
  • Hot flashes or cold shivers
  • Numbness of limbs
  • Ünausea

In addition to the physical complaints, there are also sensations. These include:

  • Insecurity
  • Fainting feeling
  • Drowsiness
  • Feeling of unreality
  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of death
  • Fear of going crazy

In most cases, the symptoms become unbearable within a few minutes and then subside again within 30 minutes, describes the psychologist Dr. Doris Wolf.

Causes of panic attacks

Various factors play a role in the development of a panic attack. Often the person affected is in an unusually stressful situation, for example after a separation, a death in the immediate environment, psychological pressure at work or after the loss of a job.

In addition, the innate fear readiness is important. If the affected person’s nervous system reacts intensely to stimuli, panic attacks can be triggered by even seemingly minor things. In addition, people who suffer from such attacks again and again often have a tendency to perfectionism. They put themselves under a lot of pressure, want to bring every situation under their control. If they then slip the reins, the body reacts to this, sometimes very strongly.

A physical illness can also be the cause of a panic attack, the expert writes. Thyroid dysfunction, vitamin B1 deficiency, liver disease, viral infection, or nutrient imbalance can cause a panic attack. The hormonal change in the menopause can promote this still further. Some medications can cause anxiety while they are being taken or after they have been discontinued.

If several stressors come together, a fatal cycle develops. The physical symptoms, such as palpitations, are misinterpreted; the sufferer reacts with fear, and this fear intensifies the physical symptoms. This is how the situation continues to escalate.

How the disorder can affect you

As a consequence of the experienced fear, the affected person avoids the situation that he or she identifies as the trigger. Often these are moments from which one cannot escape or must relinquish control. Examples include waiting at the checkout counter, taking a long bus ride, or attending an event. All these life situations are avoided more and more, for fear that a seizure could occur again. The patient becomes more and more cocooned, leaving their own home becomes a challenge.

Fear of renewed attacks can culminate in agoraphobia, a fear of the outside world. Those affected then look for aids to maintain their usual daily routine, they take tranquilizers or drink alcohol before supposedly dangerous situations, writes Dr. Wolf on „In people with agoraphobia, who are afraid of being in large places, in the subway, or on an airplane, sudden raging fear develops in such places, as they cannot bear not being able to leave the place unhindered or unnoticed", writes psychotherapist Dr. Margot Schmitz on netdoktor. In the end, patients believe that they are suffering from a life-threatening disease that is causing the symptoms.

If this behavior pattern is observed in you or a person in your environment, a specialist should be consulted immediately. A doctor can rule out physical illness and a psychotherapist can diagnose the disorder. The sooner the right diagnosis is made, the sooner the sufferer can be helped and the less they have to suffer from their seizures. Panic attacks can also occur as a symptom of other mental illnesses.

Treatment of panic disorder

Behavioral therapy has emerged as a proven remedy for panic disorder, writes Dr. Nicolas Gumpert. „The central approach of therapy must be to break the vicious circle", writes the expert. The patient learns that he or she is in control of the symptoms and that they do not pose a real danger to life. A realistic view of the symptoms is developed, so that the panic cannot build up.

If, in addition to panic disorder, agoraphobia is also present, the patient must face the anxiety-provoking situation under the care of his or her attending physician or therapist. In this way, the sufferer learns to deal with the situation without developing anxiety. Drug treatment can support the therapy results, but should only be started or stopped after consultation with the treating physician.

How should the partner deal with panic disorder?

If a family member or life partner suffers from panic disorder, it affects everyone’s daily life. The Schon Klinik hospital group gives relatives tips on how they can support the person affected without neglecting their own needs in the process. They said that, despite everything, one should not take too much of the burden off the partner with the panic attacks. At the beginning it is a relief for the affected person but in the end he only becomes more insecure and more dependent.

The partner or relative as a counselor often does not work, writes the clinic. No one who has never suffered from a panic attack can actually put themselves in the sufferer’s shoes. Comments like "It’s not so bad" or "You’ll be all right" do not help the person affected. It is better to take the patient and his or her concerns seriously as an attentive and emotionally attuned companion. Nevertheless, the own needs should not fall under the table. It is also quite possible to make it clear to the patient that you are not necessarily doing what is expected of you, according to the Schon Klinik.

The best way to support the partner is encouragement. Praise and recognition should be given even for small advances. „So: attention and clairvoyance for every grain of positive development, composure and patience with the difficult sides.", recommends the clinic group.

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