While it is said that at least 20% of American adults suffer from a panic attack at some point in their life, statistics show that women are more likely to suffer from panic attack than the males.
Based on a diagnostic interview data retrieved from National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R), it showed that an estimated 2.7% U.S adults suffered from panic disorder in 2016 and the percentage was higher for females (3.8%) when compared to the males (1.6%).
Panic attack in women just as it is in men can come with different symptoms.
What is a Panic Attack?
Panic attack as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe and serious physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause for it.
Unlike anxiety attack, which could come gradually, and extending through months, the panic attack comes sudden with intense fear as a major symptom, which reaches a peak within a very short duration of 10 to 15 minutes.
Some people, especially women, experience it at some point in their lives.
It could happen in any situation, especially, ones where you find yourself feeling overly worried and nervous. However, some panic episodes are not triggered by any condition; they just occur unexpectedly, out of the blues.
How Serious are Panic Attacks?
A panic attack may not sound dangerous to you until you experience one. It can indeed be distressing and emotionally disabling. Due to the fact that they are sometimes accompanied by disturbing physical signs, they might even be mistaken for heart attacks. In fact, Panic Attacks and Heart Attacks
share similar symptoms.
It is not rare to see people experiencing panic attacks visit the emergency wards and undergoing quite extensive medical tests. The tests are necessary to ascertain that the symptoms being exhibited are indeed those of panic attack and not a heart attack or other similar disorder.
Panic attacks can be severe, but the good news is that the episodes do not pose a threat to the body organs, and they can be treated and managed.
Symptoms of a Panic Attack in Women You Should Know About
In women, panic attacks usually come with a wide range of symptoms, which includes the below.
- shaking and trembling
- pounding heart or accelerated heartbeat
- shortness of breath
- feeling of choking
- chills and sweating
- hot flashes
- feeling that there is an impending danger
- abdominal cramps and nausea
- sense feeling of pain in the chest region (opposed to Chronic Pain)
- numbness and a tingling sensation
- a feeling of detachment and unrealistic feeling
- phobia for death
- fear of losing control
- lightheadedness or dizziness
Do Women Get Panic Attacks Suffer from Panic Disorder As Well?
To answer the question better, I would give you a clear understanding of what panic disorder means.
Panic disorder is, in simple terms, a condition that arises when people experience reoccurring panic attacks. It is usually characterised by:
- reoccurring panic attacks that come unexpectedly most times.
- the constant worry and fear of having another episode of a panic attack.
- the fear that something terrible would happen because of your panic attacks or worrying about the implication of such attacks.
- sometimes there are significant changes in lifestyle as a result of the panic attacks. For example, avoiding physical exercises.
Some women might experience a panic attack only once or twice in their lifetime; and if that’s the case with you, it is not panic disorder.
Panic attacks are frequent amongst women and do not mean they have panic disorder. However, women that suffer from regular panic attacks could be at risk of having panic disorder.
With panic disorder, one might experience panic attacks as frequently as every week or irregularly within a short time.
Different Types of Panic Attacks Women Can Experience
Women can experience panic attacks in two different ways:
- Expected panic attacks: a factor usually triggers this sort of panic attack. For instance, if you nurse a fear for dogs, you are likely to have a panic attack when you come close to one.
- Unexpected panic attacks: just like its name, it comes unexpected, ‘out of the blues’ even when you are not under pressure or stress, or confront a triggering factor. It is the type that occurs without any obvious cause or trigger.
Risk Factors for Panic Attack in Women
The following factors predispose women to have panic attacks.
- genetics, i.e. family history of panic attacks
- past traumatic experiences
- being a witness to a traumatic event
- other chronic diseases and mental health conditions such as Diabetes and Depression.
Can Women Control Panic Attacks Naturally?
There are relaxation techniques women with panic attacks can learn to control and manage the situation. You might have to talk to your health care provider, ideally as Psychologist, to suggest coping skills you can adopt to manage it.
Remember, panic attacks that spiral out of control are a red flag. If it increases in frequency and it seems you do not have control over it any more or you can no longer identify what triggers it, then, you might be developing a panic disorder.
This is why it is important that you do not ignore even the feeling of anxiety or excessive worry and fear you continuously have. You should always talk to a healthcare provider and get help on time.
You should know that if not treated and managed well, panic attacks could get in the way of your life and daily routine.
Panic attacks can lead to:
- withdrawal from social life
- poor performance in school and at work
- inferiority complex and low self-esteem
- eating disorders
- sleeping problems (Follow the link to find out Why Do You Feel Tired All the Time)
- inability to keep up with family and peer relationships
- agoraphobia (fear of being in a crowded place)
- drug abuse.
How to Prevent Panic Attacks in Women? (Best Measures)
“Prevention”, they say “is better than cure”. It is always better to avoid things that would predispose one to certain health risks.
Effective measures for preventing panic attacks include below.
- Avoiding those activities (e.g. heights, confronting with aggressive dogs) and things that could trigger a panic attack like certain medications, alcohol, caffeine etc.
- exercising and taking part in other stress-relieving activities like yoga
- getting enough sleep (If you are Struggling to Sleep Through Night, follow the link to find out why).
A panic attack can be a serious mental health condition, which is not rare in women. It should not be overlooked as it can reoccur hence, making life distressful for the sufferer and could progress to panic disorder.
There are a variety of health professionals that can be involved in the treatment of panic attacks and disorders ranging from the primary care doctors (GPs) to psychologists and psychiatrists. It is important that one is experiencing symptoms of panic attacks talks to any of them for better diagnosis, treatment and management of the condition.
Let us know your experience with Panic attack and your tactics in preventing them? What has worked with you, and what has not?
National Institute of Mental Health (2017). Panic disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/panic-disorder.shtml
Dryden-Edwards, R. and Stoppler, M. (2018) Panic attacks (panic disorder). Retrieved from https://www.medicinenet.com/panic_disorder/article.htm#what_are_panic_attack_symptoms_and_signs_in_adults_teens_and_children
Mayo Clinic (2018). Panic attacks and panic disorder. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/panic-attacks/symptoms-causes/syc-20376021
Center for Young Women’s Health (2018). Panic attacks. Retrieved from https://youngwomenshealth.org/2013/07/03/panic-attacks/
McCann, U. (n.d.). Anxiety and heart diseases. Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/heart_vascular_institute/clinical_services/centers_excellence/womens_cardiovascular_health_center/patient_information/health_topics/anxiety_heart_disease.html