What Are The Symptoms of a Panic Attack?

A panic attack generally comes without warning and is described as a sudden feeling of extreme terror or fear. This feeling of terror and panic may or may not be related to a current situation. The intensity of feelings and emotions are not in relation to the situation. You can have a panic attack any time of day or night. Common symptoms you might have during a panic attack are:

• "Racing" heart
• Feeling weak, faint, or dizzy
• Tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers
• Sense of terror, of impending doom or death
• Feeling sweaty or having chills
• Chest pains
• Breathing difficulties
• Feeling a loss of control

You can think you are having a heart attack or even fear dying from the attack. The attack generally lasts about 10 minutes. Panic attacks are not uncommon. It is estimated that 1 out of every 75 people have had some form of a panic attack. If you have one panic attack there is a greater chance you will have another. If you suffer from repeated panic attacks you may have a Panic Disorder condition.

Do women experience panic attacks more than men?

Studies have shown that women are more than twice as likely as men to have panic attacks. Women are also more likely to have recurring panic attacks and to develop panic disorder condition. Women generally first experience panic attack symptoms in early adulthood.

The symptoms experience by women also differs from those experienced by men.

Both men and women list the most frequent symptom as heart pounding. After this symptom there is a marked difference between women and men in the symptoms reported. Women are much more likely to experience respiration-related difficulties. That is, women report symptoms including shortness of breath, feeling faint, feeling smothered and nausea. Men on the other hand report symptoms including a sharp pain in the stomach and sweating much more frequently than do women.

Not only are women more likely to develop on-going panic attacks but women are more likely to have a more severe form of panic attacks that include agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is commonly referred to as “fear of the market place”. This means that panic attacks include the fear of going to a public place or leaving one’s home. Women generally suffer from agoraphobic fears more when they are alone than when they are with another person.

Is the treatment different based on gender?

We don’t have a clear understanding of what causes Panic Disorder. Some studies have pointed to a genetic predisposition to panic disorder and note that this disorder has been shown to run in families. Many times, the symptoms appear during a time of major life changes such as graduating from school, starting a new job, getting married, moving or having a child.

Left untreated panic attacks can lead to more complicated disorders. These disorders include conditions such as specific irrational fears or phobias, avoidance of social activities, depression, problems at work or school, suicidal thoughts or actions, or substance abuse. People with Panic disorder are also at risk for developing heart disease.

There are established treatments for panic disorder. Studies have not shown specific treatments that unique to women. Each individual must work their counselor and Doctor to develop the correct method of therapy and possible medication that is required for successful treatment. The good news, this is a treatable condition.


Katon, W.J. (2006) Panic Disorder. The New England Journal of Medicine, 354, 2360-2367.

Kendler, K.S., Neale, M.C., Kessler, R.C., Heath, A.C., Eaves, L.J. (1993) Panic disorder in women: a population-based twin study. Psychological Medicine, 23, 397-406.

Sheikh, J.I., Leskin, G.A., Klein, D.F., (2002) Gender differences in panic disorder: findings from the national comorbidity Survey. American Journal of Psychiatry, 159, 55-58

Yoners, K.A., Zlotnick, C., Allsworth, A.B., Warshaw, M., Shea, T., Keller, M. (1998) Is the Course of Panic Disorder the Same in Women and Men? American Journal of Psychiatry, 155, 596–602


Cheryl Gowin
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Author's Bio: 

Cheryl Eastlund-Gowin is a professional counselor with Discovery Counseling. This is a second career for Cheryl; prior to moving into the counseling arena she held an executive level management position in corporate America. Cheryl has always enjoyed teaching and helping people. She brings life experience to individuals, couples and families as they struggle with issues of daily life including the treatment of anxiety disorders.