How Long Do Panic Attacks Last?

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If you’ve ever experienced a panic attack, you should know that you’re not alone—an estimated 4.7% of U.S. adults will experience panic disorder at some point in their lives.

However, despite being a relatively common condition, coming behind only social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and generalized anxiety for the most widespread anxiety disorders, many will wonder when their next panic attack will occur. Even more worrying is not knowing how long these attacks will last.

This article will cover how long panic attacks last and provide helpful tips for managing panic attack symptoms.

What Are Panic Attacks?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM), a panic attack is an abrupt surge of fear or intense discomfort.

This means a wave of panic could hit you while doing mundane things like taking a walk in the park, or while grocery shopping over the weekend.

However, despite being a sudden attack, not every unexpected feeling of fear or discomfort qualifies as a panic attack.

In particular, if these feelings of fear can be traced to some other condition such as social anxiety disorder, where feelings of panic can worsen when faced with public or social situations, it may be inaccurate to describe such feelings as a panic attack.

While panic attacks may be unexpected, they may also result from dreaded situations such as a performance review at work, or in reaction to a feared object such as an unforeseen financial expense.

Signs That You May Be Having a Panic Attack

If you’ve ever experienced the dread that comes with a panic attack, you most likely won’t be needing any indicators of this condition. However, if you’ve found yourself feeling an unexpected wave of panic, and are unsure if they qualify as panic attacks, here are a few signs of this disorder to look out for:

  • Chills
  • Choking
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Heat sensations
  • Heart palpitations
  • Light-headedness
  • A quick heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fear of dying

What Causes a Panic Attack?

While there isn’t a widely accepted cause of panic attacks, there is a chance that genetics and family factors have a role to play in its development. Some are of the belief that people with this condition inherit a sensitive central nervous system fear mechanism.

This school of thought is plausible as the central nervous system is responsible for receiving, processing, and responding to sensations, emotions, communication, and memory among other functions. Supporting this claim, 40% of first-degree relatives have been shown to have an increased chance of developing a panic disorder if someone in the family already has the condition. 

Another cause traces panic attacks to a chemical imbalance in the body. This could be due to an uneven amount of hormones such as cortisol—the body’s stress hormone, or serotonin, otherwise known as the happiness hormone.

People may also experience panic attacks because certain parts of their brains are more excitable than normal, making them prone to developing a panic disorder.

Certain groups of people are more likely to experience panic attacks, with European Americans more likely to develop this condition than their African-American, Asian, or Latino counterparts.

How Long Do Panic Attacks Last?

If you’ve lived through your fair share of panic attacks, one of the most pressing questions you’ve definitely asked is how long you’ll have to deal with the sudden sweats, trembles, dizziness, chest pains, and other symptoms that usually accompany this condition.

Panic attacks usually last for a few minutes or more and can be very jarring to experience. 

These attacks can happen several times a day or show up as rarely as only a few times per year. However, it's a little hard to say how long you may be dealing with this condition. Most people will experience this condition again, even if there is a period where they are free of panic attacks.

Panic attacks are usually followed by at least one month of constant concern over where and when the next attack may occur. Going through those minutes of dread and putting your body through continuous worry can affect the quality of your life. It could also have far-reaching effects like depression and disability.

How to Manage Panic Attacks

While the thought of experiencing a panic attack can dampen your day, there are treatment techniques to get this disorder under control. Some of the most well-recognized methods of managing panic attacks are listed below.

Breathing Training

While this treatment method is more popularly used in patients with asthma or hypertension, it may also benefit those who deal with panic attacks.

Breathing in slowly through the nose, out through the mouth, and focusing on the movements can help with controlling episodes of hyperventilation that can come with panic attacks.

Antidepressants

Antidepressants are typically prescribed to treat depression, but these medications may also share their ability to improve mood in cases of panic attacks. In particular, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), (which help increase the availability of serotonin), might be more effective in treating cases of panic attacks.

Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a commonly recommended treatment method. If you experience panic attacks, this treatment encourages exposure to any situation or object that may trigger attacks. A professional will supervise you during these exposures.

CBT may also teach you helpful ways to respond to dizziness, quick heart rate, and other symptoms of panic attacks.

A Word From Verywell

Going around your day with a dark cloud of panic hovering over you can be challenging. Those few minutes spent unsure of whether you might survive the trembling, sweating, dizziness, chest pain, heat, etc. that usually accompanies panic attacks can be highly discouraging.

However, while panic attacks may seem to be this spontaneous, out-of-control phenomenon, this condition is very manageable, as therapy, medication, and breathing techniques may help. For the best treatment, it’s important to seek professional help.

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5 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.
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