Currently, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) suggests there are approximately 40 million individuals who experience panic attacks, stress attacks, or anxiety attacks. These symptoms are by far the most under-reported, most frequently occurring encounters for many adults states Arizona Casa/FCRB Training in Anxiety Disorders, and there are distinct differences between the types of attacks.
Anxiety Disorders are a category in the DSM-IV, which analyzes the differences between panic, stress, and anxiety attacks. This analysis is important so a doctor can accurately diagnose which anxiety disorder an individual has.
The specific information about the patient’s attacks guides the doctor through the complex maze of anxiety disorders to rule out the ones that do not apply. Knowing which disorders to consider will enable the doctor make a proper diagnosis. Then, appropriate treatment plans can be discussed.
A panic attack occurs suddenly, intensifies quickly, and reaches its magnitude in approximately 15 minutes or less. Panic attacks can create such feelings of fear that an individual can feel like their throat is closing, their stomach is upset, or that they may even pass out. It is not unusual to perspire heavily or experience the sensation of a heart attack occurring, according to the DSM-IV criteria. The most important fact to remember is a panic attack is often unexpected, it just happens.
Stress attacks are known to occur when a certain sound, thought/dream, or smell relative to the initial traumatic event, triggers another attack of intense fear. The initial event is repeatedly experienced over time because it is viewed as an assault on ones principles or on one’s physical body.
In some cases, according to the DSM-IV, stress attacks may continually happen for up to approximately four weeks and then cease. It is the length of duration of the attack, related to the initial traumatic event, that determines if an individual is experiencing stress attacks.
Unlike panic attacks which occur suddenly, anxiety attacks involve feelings of apprehension and doom. The DSM-IV explains there can be an inability to focus as well as continual feelings of tiredness. Anxiety attacks are not related to an initial traumatic event as in the case of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.
Additionally, one would not engage in repetitive behaviors to reduce obsessions or compulsions. However, insomnia and other problems affecting sleep can be experienced as a result of an anxiety attack. According to Brown, O’Leary, and Barlow’s study in the Clinical Handbook of Psychological Disorders, Third Edition: A Step-by-Step Treatment Manual, the inability to control excessive worry is a notable symptom of anxiety attacks.
Treatment for panic, stress, or anxiety attacks may include psychotherapy, medications, or a combination of both. Different types of psychotherapy are available for each diagnosis based on how well they work. New therapies and a combination of therapies are being studied continually for effectiveness. A variety of medications are also available for the different types of attacks an individual experiences. As is the case with new therapies, combining medications are also being studied. In some cases, psychotherapy and medications together may be the best treatment, depending on the diagnosis.
It is a wise person who likes to be informed about their life experiences. However, it is of the utmost importance for individuals to contact their own physician if they feel any of the above information applies to them. Of particular importance is if unexpected attacks occur more than once, or if excessive worry cannot be controlled, or the duration of the attacks continues to occur over a long period of time. Doctors do not self-diagnose, and it would be a good idea to follow the same principle; so please contact your own physician to get the correct diagnosis and treatment.
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