Panic Attacks Don’t Strike Without Warning
When it comes to panic attacks, it seems that they never strike without warning and the most recent study made on the issue shows what signs should warn people that they are about to have a panic attack.
According to the group of researchers at the Southern Methodist University who were involved in the study, it seems that subtle panic attack warning start about an hour before the actual attack strikes. What the researchers did was to monitor the patients who were part of the study throughout a period of time of 24 hours, while they were wearing portable recorders. The researchers discovered that there were significant changes in what concerned the patients’ heart rates, respiration and other bodily functions. Furthermore, it seems that these things started to happen about 60 minutes before the patients became aware of the fact that they were having a panic attack. Also, it seems that the patients were also hyperventilating on a chronic basis, before the panic attack struck. “The results were just amazing,” said Dr. Alicia E. Meuret, one of the researchers who were involved in the study. “We found that in this hour preceding naturally occurring panic attacks, there was a lot of cognitive physiological instability. These significant physiological instabilities were not present during other times when the patient wasn’t about to have a panic attack.”
Furthermore, another very surprising fact that the researchers discovered was that patients were not at all aware of the fact that their bodily functions were changing and the panic attack always took the by surprise. From what Meuret said, it seems that even though the signs of a panic attack started showing an hour before the patients even realized that they were going through one, their psychological traits did not change at all during this period. This is why is so surprising that people do not realize they are having a panic attack when all the symptoms start showing.
In what concerns panic attacks, there are two types: expected and unexpected. Those panic attacks that are expected usually happen when the person realizes that something outside, in the environment, has the potential to hurt them or when they are in crowded place or in closed space. Unexpected panic attacks, however, have been reported to happen out of the blue, while people were watching TV, for instance. Most patients who took part in the study said that their panic attacks started from nowhere and that they felt at once a wide range of symptoms piling up and that there was nothing to predict that.
Given that these panic attacks were so mysterious to both patients and the researchers, the latter used a method called change-point analysis, in order to determine whether the patients had suffered or shown some significant changes before the panic attack struck. What they discovered was that the patients actually showed signs of symptoms of panic attacks an hour before they realized they had them. This analysis can also be used to predict other out of the blue onsets, such as strokes, seizures and manic episodes. From what the researchers said, it seems that this study provides some good insight into how to predict and try to prevent these sorts of onsets from happening. Given that most panic attack symptoms both physiological (chest pain, heart racing, shortness of breath, hot flashes, trembling, dizziness, nausea, numbness and choking) and psychological (fears of dying or of losing control and a feeling of unreality), most patients usually can tell if they are having a panic attack.
Most people who go through a panic attack usually fear that they are going to die, that something wrong is going to happen to them. However, although these signs make people fear that they are suffering from anything that can be worse, like a heart attack that usually has the same symptoms, they actually understand that what is happening to them is only a panic attack and that is when the panic actually strikes. Still, the signs are subtle and very mild in the hour before the actual panic attack strikes and that is why most people cannot foretell that it is going to happen.
The researchers discovered that during the hour prior to the actual panic attack, people’s carbon dioxide levels rose significantly and that they started hyperventilating. Throughout time it has been speculated that a higher level of carbon dioxide makes people feel like they would be suffocating and that is how panic attack may be triggered. The researchers also stated that during the hour prior to the panic attack per se, they discovered 15 signs, which were all following a certain pattern, which should have made people aware of the fact that they were going to have a panic attack. This is why the study invites a reconsideration of the DSM diagnostic definition, which makes a very strong distinction between unexpected and expected panic attacks, stating that even these unexpected panic attacks show signs about an hour before they happen.
Furthermore, the researchers also talked about the CBT, the cognitive behavior therapy, which is used to treat people from their panic attacks. They said that the CBT usually focuses on people trying to predict a panic attack, but how can you predict something that you are not aware that it is going to happen? The researchers concluded by saying that this particular study opens a lot of doors in what concerns the treatment and prevention of such things as out of the blue onsets, such as panic attacks, strokes and even seizures and that they hopes to be able to use the findings of the study in order to come up with some new and improved treatments.11