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Emergency Department Discharge Instructions

Panic attack

Emergency Care Discharge Instructions

Instruction summary

Panic attacks usually happen without any warning and tend to last about five minutes. During those minutes, you may feel a variety of frightening symptoms, such as your heart racing, difficulty breathing or feeling like you are falling or that you are going to die. The attacks are often very scary for patients and happen randomly, instead of in response to any particular frightening event.

Panic attacks tend to happen to individuals who have “type A” personalities (i.e. perfectionists, high-strung individuals). The attacks usually start when the person’s baseline level of stress has increased, due to a stressful event. This event could be a good stressful event, such as a wedding, or a bad stressful event, such as a death in the family, losing your job, difficulties at work, etc.

The attacks tend to come in clusters, with multiple attacks occurring over several weeks, and then they naturally taper off, and become much less frequent. If the baseline stress level increases again in the future, another cluster of panic attacks may occur.

The key to treatment and prevention of panic attacks is to actively manage your stress. Talk to your family doctor about different options for stress management, such as deep breathing techniques, meditation, and yoga. Whilst there are medications to treat panic attacks (such as benzodiazepines and beta-blockers), these are often not as helpful because they take too long to work (the attack is gone by the time the medication starts to work).

While most people who have panic attacks are young and healthy, having a panic attack does not prevent you from having another serious condition. If you are young and healthy, you likely do not need to worry about other causes for your symptoms when your panic attacks occur, particularly if you have been been checked out in the ER when you had an attack. However, if you start to experience new symptoms that are different from your usual panic attacks, return to the ER to be assessed.