Panic Attack

Symptoms of a panic attack include: rapid heart rate, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath or choking feeling, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, numbness or tingling, chills or hot flushes, feeling out-of-body, fear of losing control or dying.

1. Introduce yourself and ask if patient knows what's happening or has had a panic attack before.

2. If they answer "No", check for a medical alert bracelet or necklace. If symptoms indicate a serious medical event, follow DRSABCD and monitor patient's conscious state until medical responders arrive.

3. If the answer is "Yes", ask what help they need and provide it. Remain calm, speak slowly, firmly, clearly and respectfully.

4. Reassure patient that it is a panic attack, acknowledge their fear and reassure them that they are safe and the symptoms will pass.

5. Encourage patient to breathe deeply and either close their eyes and count, or focus on an object in sight and describe it in detail.

6. Once the panic attack has subsided, encourage patient to seek information and care from a health professional.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Is a panic attack different from an anxiety attack? Both conditions cause distress, nervousness and related physical responses, but a panic attack typically presents as an abrupt surge of fear and discomfort, manifesting in intense physical symptoms like chest pain, shaking, hot flushes, detachment from self, shortness of breath and accelerated heart rate that lasts for around 10-20 minutes. Conversely, anxiety is a gradual build-up of emotional stress, characterised by feelings of dread, worry, fear, fatigue, irritability and apprehension that can go on for months.

What are the triggers for a panic attack? Recurring panic attacks are a type of anxiety disorder that can occur in seemingly harmless situations such as sitting in a classroom or socialising in the playground. Anxiety commonly activates the 'flight or fight' response to a perceived danger, activating a flood of adrenaline that brings on intense physiological change. But when a fight or flight/adrenaline rush is triggered in a situation where danger doesn't actually exist, other factors could include:

  • chronic (ongoing) stress
  • acute (responsive) stress 
  • habitual hyperventilation
  • intense physical exercise
  • excessive caffeine consumption
  • illness
  • change of physical environment