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Panic Attacks and the Fear of Unknown in a Pandemic: Symptoms and Treatment

Image for representation.

Image for representation.

Internet searches for the keywords “panic attack” had reached an all-time high a few months ago. It would be helpful to know what a panic attack is and how it can be treated.

With coronavirus pandemic unfolding all over the world early this year, people saw crisis and uncertainty gripping much of their lives in the most unexpected ways. Living alone, facing job loss, salary cuts, the haunting thought of losing someone close and so on, the fears have been unending. Anxiety and panic come naturally in such a situation.

In fact, Internet searches for the keywords “panic attack” had reached an all-time high a few months ago. It would be helpful to know what a panic attack is and how it can be treated.

Anxiety about COVID-19

According to a study published in the online medical journal Jama Network, a rise in online searches about panic attacks and anxiety occurred for about two months following US President Donald Trump’s declaration of national emergency in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic, on March 13. The researchers noted that the percentage of such queries were much higher than expected.

What are panic attacks?

Panic attacks are described as a sudden and intense feeling of fear, often accompanied by nausea, palpitation, chest pain, sweating, chills and dizziness among other discomforts. There is an overwhelming feeling of inescapable danger and helplessness.

Apart from genetic factors, the major cause of such attacks is stress. Panic attacks come from the blue, even during sleep, and not much is known about them. During such attacks, the mind switches to a fight or flight mode, simulating a life-threatening scenario. If the attacks become repetitive, then the condition is called a panic disorder.

Treatment for Panic attacks

People experiencing panic attacks should seek treatment immediately as such patients may be depressed, might be substance abusers and might entertain thoughts of suicide. A study published in BMC Psychiatry online journal notes that as per research based on data from the National Institute of Mental Health Epidemiologic Catchment Area (ECA), about 47% of patients suffering from panic disorder have suicidal thoughts throughout life.

Treatments for panic attacks involve psychotherapy, such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and medications to treat anxiety and depression. Serotonin inhibitors and beta-blockers may be prescribed to reduce the intensity of such attacks.