Panic Disorder A Basic Guide to Panic Attacks When Your Symptoms Point to a Panic Attack By Matthew Tull, PhD Matthew Tull, PhD Twitter Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder. Learn about our editorial process Updated on February 20, 2021 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Akeem Marsh, MD Medically reviewed by Akeem Marsh, MD LinkedIn Twitter Akeem Marsh, MD, is a board-certified child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist who has dedicated his career to working with medically underserved communities. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print BraunS / Getty Images A panic attack is a sudden wave of overwhelming anxiety and fear that triggers a host of severe psychosomatic responses. From a clinical perspective, panic attacks typically refer to an experience of intense fear or discomfort where four or more of the following symptoms are felt: Pounding heart or increased heart rate Sweating Trembling/shaking Feeling as though you are being smothered or having difficulty breathing Choking Chest pain/discomfort Nausea or abdominal pains and/or discomfort Feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or faint Feeling as though things around you are unreal or feeling detached from yourself Feeling as though you are going to lose control or go crazy Fear of dying Numbness or tingling in extremities Chills or hot flashes Although the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) says that four or more of the above symptoms must be felt, sometimes a person can have a panic attack that is accompanied by three or less of the above symptoms. This is sometimes referred to as a limited symptom panic attack. Panic attacks are actually quite common. In fact, as many as 12 percent of people may experience a panic attack at some point in their lifetime. Panic attacks typically affect more women than men and often start in the late teens or early adulthood. Cued and Uncued Panic Attacks Panic attacks can be cued or uncued. Cued panic attacks are those that occur following exposure to some kind of triggers such as a very frightening experience or thought. For example, someone who is scared of public speaking may have a panic attack when placed in front of an audience. An uncued panic attack (or a spontaneous or unexpected panic attack) is one that occurs “out of the blue” and is the defining feature of panic disorders. Risk Factors for Panic Attack Factors that may increase the risk of developing panic attacks include: Family history of panic attacks or panic disorderMajor life stress, such as the death or serious illness of a loved oneA traumatic event, such as sexual assault or a serious accidentMajor changes in your life, such as a divorce or the addition of a babySmoking or excessive caffeine intakeHistory of childhood physical or sexual abuse Treating Panic Attacks The main treatment options are psychotherapy and medications. Which route to take depends in part on your preference, your history, the severity of your panic attacks and whether you have access to therapists trained in treating panic attacks. Psychotherapy is also called talk therapy and is often the first choice of treatment for panic attacks. It can help you learn more about panic attacks and learn how to cope with them. Psychotherapy for Treating Panic Disorder A form of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy can help you learn that panic symptoms are not dangerous. Medications can also help reduce symptoms associated with panic attacks. Several types of medication have been shown to be effective in managing symptoms including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and benzodiazepines. It can take several weeks after first starting a medication for your symptoms to improve. Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. American Psychiatric Association (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author. Mayo Clinic. Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/panic-attacks/basics/definition/con-20020825 Telch, M. J., Lucas, J. A., & Nelson, P. (1989). Nonclinical panic in college students: An investigation of prevalence and symptomatology. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 98, 300-306. By Matthew Tull, PhD Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Panic Disorder Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.