Sep 07

His heart starts to beat stronger with every minute, sweat starts to run down on his back and it becomes more and more difficult to get air, it is as if his lungs were blocked. Suddenly his heart begins to burn – is he finally having his first heart attack? He panics, he might die right here on the street if he doesn’t get immediate help – unbearable fear is climbing up his spine…

The effects of a panic attack vary – most sufferers feel intense fear they are having a heart attack, might ‘go crazy’ or have a nervous breakdown. Experiencing a panic attack can feel like one of the most intensely frightening, upsetting and uncomfortable experiences of a person’s life.
But unlike many might think, panic attacks are not necessarily related to high stress, but can even hit people with a very relaxed lifestyle. However, panic attacks are often indicators of anxiety disorders, depression or other psychological conditions that had been untreated (or treated improperly) for a long time. Other potential causes are side effects of medications, alcohol, medication or drug withdrawal or chronic illness.

If panic attacks are untreated, agoraphobia might develop, where a person develops a fear of having panic attacks in certain places. Concerned that they might feel trapped or run into a panic attack, they increasingly avoid any situation that might put them at risk, might avoid open spaces, to drive or even to leave their homes at all. It can also be related to social anxiety, where the fear revolves around social situations, interactions with others, or being evaluated or scrutinized by other people. This can result in one of the most harmful side-effects of panic disorder, as it can prevent sufferers from seeking treatment in the first place or to develop psychological dependence of drugs. However, treatment is possible and usually consists of regular psychotherapeutic sessions over an individually advised amount of time, sometimes combined with complimentary medication. That way, more than 90% of agoraphobics can achieve a full recovery.

(This short article is part of a weekly series dealing with psychological expat problems and general mental health issues and was published in various newspapers and magazines in Thailand, 2010)