Can You Die From A Panic Attack Or Anxiety Symptoms?
By Sarah Fader
Updated January 23, 2019
Reviewer Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC
For individuals who have suffered a panic attack, you know that it can be a very scary event. If it's your first attack, you may not know what is happening to your body. It can feel like a serious medical problem, and if you are already prone to anxiety, then experiencing a panic attack may make your anxiety even worse, thereby prolonging the attack. That's because when you don't understand what is happening, you may assume the worst. Because anxiety can have real physical symptoms, you may be wondering, can you die from a panic attack? The truth is, you will not die from a panic attack. Anxiety and panic attacks are actually quite responsive to appropriate intervention and treatment. So take heart, you can survive a panic attack, as well as reduce the intensity of them, and even prevent them from recurring.
The symptoms of a panic attack
The health emergency with which panic attacks are most often confused is heart attacks. Extreme anxiety can definitely feel like you are having a heart attack. Your chest tightens; you get dizzy, and it's difficult to breathe. You may even experience tingling in your fingers or arms. But here's an easy way to know the difference between a panic attack and a cardiovascular emergency.
The tingling in your arms from a panic attack is caused by hyperventilating as you take rapid breaths. You will experience numbness and pain on both sides of your body. When someone is having a heart attack, on the other hand, the pain and tingling is usually isolated to the left arm and mostly the left side of the chest, though the whole chest may feel pressure.
When you have a panic attack you may experience:
Lightheadedness or dizziness
Tingling fingers and hands, or occasionally other body parts
Feeling like you might faint
What Causes My Panic Attacks?
Panic attacks are the most extreme form of anxiety. A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can occur at any time, and many people with panic disorder experience dread over the possibility of having another attack. But it is possible to experience a panic attack, without having a panic disorder. Panic attacks and diagnosed panic disorder are highly treatable conditions, yet many individuals may not realize they have a diagnosable condition, or they may be afraid to seek treatment due to embarrassment or the fear of being told that their symptoms are only in their imaginations.
Persons with panic disorder may become discouraged and feel ashamed because the disorder makes it difficult to complete normal routines like going to school or work, going to the grocery store, or driving. Panic disorder often begins in the late teens or early adulthood. More women than men have panic disorder. Not everyone who experiences panic attacks will develop panic disorder, though.
There are steps you can take to mitigate panic symptoms. However, even individuals who have had many panic attacks can find it difficult to reason with their logical mind during an attack. The anxiety may come from your mind, but the physical symptoms are quite real. To help get over your anxiety or even prevent an attack, try acknowledging what the attack is- anxiety and not impending death. This is easier if you have had an anxiety attack before and know that is probably the cause of your symptoms. Make yourself as comfortable as possible, and focus on fully inhaling and exhaling in a slow, natural pattern.
How Can I Treat Panic Attacks?
There are many types of interventions, including various therapeutic approaches, that are suitable for addressing anxiety, in all its forms, including panic attacks and panic disorder.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help a person understand their ways of thinking that might contribute to the development of an attack, and subsequently change those patterns to help decrease both the frequency and the intensity, of future attacks.
Your therapist might also recommend exposure therapy. In this type of therapy, the person in treatment is exposed to the sensations that accompany panic, one at a time, in a controlled environment so that effective ways of coping with those sensations can be learned. Exposure strategies include the use of relaxation techniques, which allow you to calm your body down, to reduce the physical symptoms of the panic attack. Perhaps the simplest, so most readily available, relaxation technique is diaphragmatic breathing. Relaxed diaphragmatic breathing (slow breathing from your diaphragm) is an excellent, natural way to end, control, and prevent anxiety attacks.
Support Groups May Also Be Beneficial To Some.
In addition, there are many types of medications which can be very effective in helping treat anxiety disorders, including panic attacks. If you are not experiencing the results you need through more self-administered, or natural, strategies, check with your medical doctor about the appropriateness of medication for your panic.
Anti-anxiety/anti-panic medications or benzodiazepines may be useful at treating the symptoms of a panic attack, especially on a temporary basis, but because the medication cannot treat what is causing an individual to experience panic, most clinicians do not recommend medication as the only form of treatment. Sometimes an anti-anxiety medication helps provide enough change in anxiety for you to begin to experience positive results from talk therapy strategies.
Other strategies that may help people cope with panic attacks on their own include the use of various relaxation techniques (like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or yoga) and being intentional about more realistic thinking.
Mindfulness helps to ground, or focus, you in the reality of the present, or what is around you right now. Since panic attacks can cause a feeling of detachment or separation from reality, this can interrupt your panic attack as it is approaching or actually happening. Distracting your attention can prevent anxious thinking. Focus on the physical sensations with which you are familiar, like digging your feet into the ground, or feeling the texture of your clothing on your hands. Strong sensory experiences tend to be more distracting so you may want to drink some very cold water, suck on a sour piece of candy, or smell something quite intense. These specific sensations ground you firmly in reality and give you something objective on which to focus. The bottom line is that anything that distracts you from your anxious thoughts, and the physical sensations of a panic attack, will assist in ending the attack.
Exercise regularly. Regular physical activity can play an important role in protecting you against anxiety and panic attacks, along with all of the other important physical, and mental, health benefits associated with proper exercise.
Remember that all panic attacks end. No matter how intense, or how frightening one is, it will end. And even though most anxiety, especially panic attacks, feel outside your control, you actually have more control than you think. We have covered several ways in which you can take control of your panic.
Can You Die From A Panic Attack?
The symptoms of a panic attack are quite serious. That being said, if you are truly having a panic attack and not another medical emergency, then no, you cannot die from a panic attack. It may feel like you will, but the feeling will pass. For severe anxiety attacks, you may need to seek emergency medical treatment in order to get over your attack and get back to a calmer mental state, but you may trust that no panic attack, in and of itself, will result in death.
Although a panic attack will not kill you, you should be aware that chronic anxiety and stress can have real effects on your health and may eventually lead to life-threatening illnesses. Stress causes inflammation that takes its toll on every system in your body. Individuals who do not cope well with stress are more likely to develop high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Effective stress management is vital in preventing panic attacks.
To keep yourself healthy and prevent anxiety and stress-related illnesses, get treatment for your panic attacks by seeing a licensed mental health professional. Even though a panic attack does not have serious short-term effects on your physical health, it takes a heavy toll on your mental health, and can negatively impact physical health over time. Anyone can occasionally experience a stress-related panic attack, even if you do not suffer from panic disorder.