Panic attacks are an awful thing to have to go through.
Your breathing becomes erratic, you feel like you’re losing control of your own body and mind, and can leave you almost completely immobilized afterwards. Needless to say, they can be a massive problem.
And they’re not rare, either. Over one-third of people in the United Kingdom have reported having a panic attack at some point in their lives (a number that doesn’t take into account non-reported panic attacks, so the actual figure could be a lot higher).
It’s something that many of us will have to deal with at some point, whether we like it or not.
Given that so many of their symptoms seem to align with other dramatic and dangerous conditions, like heart attacks, many people may be worried (anxious, you might say) that a panic attack could kill them one day.
Something that doesn’t help calm the nerves and avoid panic attacks!
Luckily, this guide is here to set the record straight. Not only will we help prove how and why panic attacks can’t kill you, but we’ll help you understand what they look like, and ways you can better treat anxiety yourself.
Can An Anxiety Attack Kill You?
So, before we get any deeper into this topic, we should probably answer the main question that we asked in our title: Is there any chance that panic attacks can kill you?
Well, thankfully, they cannot. While their symptoms are incredibly distressing and might look like other dangerous conditions at first, a panic attack in itself cannot, and will not, kill you.
However, you are still at risk of being injured by secondary sources that may be affected your ability to think clearly and normally.
For example, having a panic attack while travelling at speed along a road or highway, or being in a high location with a substantial risk of falling.
Differences Between Heart & Panic Attacks
It’s important to recognize the difference between panic and heart attacks. Because, while the former might feel like the latter at the moment, they are substantially different both in sensation, and the immediate danger that they pose.
Chief among which, is the type of pain that both can cause.
People who have had panic attacks usually describe the pain that they feel in their chest as shooting or sharp, usually caused by the sudden change in their breathing that comes with a panic attack.
Meanwhile, heart attack pain is usually a lot more subtle, feeling more like a squeezing pain or pressure around the heart, definitely not like how we imagine them to feel.
(It’s also one of the biggest reasons why people, mistaking their heart attack for some sort of indigestion or nausea, will ignore the pain and not call an ambulance, doing more damage in the long run.)
So, if the pain in your chest is sharp and instantly noticeable, then simply remove yourself from your current situation, focus on your breathing, and wait for the panicking sensation to subside.
Weirdly enough, if it feels LESS urgent, that’s probably when you need to call an ambulance as soon as possible!
Signs Of A Panic Attack
So, given that the secondary factors that we mentioned before can potentially cause someone to potentially injure or kill themselves, it’s important to be able to recognize when someone is about to go into a panic attack, whether it is yourself, or someone around you.
The symptoms will look a little different for everyone, but there are some common signs that someone is going through a panic attack:
- Uncontrollable shaking or shivering, even in warmer weather.
- A feeling of disorientation, you have trouble seeing the world around you clearly and reacting appropriately.
- A feeling of nausea.
- An irregular heartbeat, and breathlessness.
- General dizziness
- Dry mouth and lips.
If you or someone you see is suffering from any of these symptoms, take them out of immediate danger or the situation they may be in, and give them at least a few minutes to calm down.
Effects Of Anxiety On The Body
Even if panic attacks can’t kill you, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some serious effects that lots of anxiety can have on the body, both in the short and long term.
The short-term effects of panic attacks and anxiety will be noticeable to both yourself and those around you.
You’ll find that you are a lot shorter in breath and unable to stop shaking in high-anxiety moments or panic attacks.
Your appetite is also likely to completely vanish in the short time after a panic attack, as your body is too focused on its fight or flight response to being able to handle any food (though you may be able to handle still water, depending on your current condition).
After a while, the most likely feeling that you’ll have while feeling anxious is fatigue. As your body leaves the fight-or-flight response, the adrenaline in your system will leave you with low amounts of energy.
Increased levels of anxiety can have some pretty drastic effects on your body’s ability to function on a day-to-day basis, especially over time.
You may notice that your appetite drastically changes during times of high anxiety. How exactly will vary from person to person, some will have an increased appetite, while others will be unable to eat anything.
You may also find that your digestion patterns change a lot, as you feel bloated more often. High levels of anxiety can even lead to developing irritable bowel syndrome, or increased chances of diarrhoea.
Needless to say, living with anxiety is not a good thing for your health.
Final Notes – What To Do In A Panic Attack
So, while we’ve learned that panic attacks won’t kill you by themselves, high levels of anxiety are still not good for your body overall.
So, as we said before, try and leave the current situation that is causing you distress, and try to focus on controlling your breathing. Slow breaths in, and slow breaths out.
If you suffer from anxiety a lot, it’s probably worth going to see a therapist or counsellor for better ways to handle your anxiety.