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Can You Die From a Panic Attack?

The symptoms of a panic attack can be terrifying. You may feel as though you are being suffocated or that you’re having a heart attack. In other words, when you’re in the midst of a panic attack, it can feel like you are about to die. But are you truly in grave danger? And most importantly, can you die from a panic attack?

What Happens During a Panic Attack?

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) describes a panic attack as “an abrupt surge of intense fear or intense discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes.” To meet the criteria for a panic attack as defined in the DSM-5, a person must experience at least four of the following symptoms:

  • Heart palpitations or a racing heart rate
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Feeling like you can’t catch your breath, or that you are being smothered
  • Sensation of being choked
  • Pain in your chest
  • Nausea or other types of abdominal pain
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or feeling like you are about to faint
  • Hot flashes and/or chills
  • Numbness or tingling, typically in your fingers or toes
  • Feeling like you are detached from your environment (derealization) or that you have become disconnected from your own thoughts, feelings, and emotions (depersonalization)
  • Fear that you are losing control of your body and mind
  • Fear that you are about to die

Given the severity of these symptoms, it is understandable why someone might wonder, can you die from a panic attack? Before we answer that question, let’s take a moment to review potential causes of panic attacks.

What Causes Panic Attacks?

Man fearful of whether you can die from a panic attack or not

One of the many disconcerting characteristics of panic attacks is that they can occur at any time and in any circumstances, often with no apparent cause. In other words, panic attacks are not simply overreactions to a perceived danger. A person doesn’t have to be worried or fearful in order to have a panic attack. 

Mental health experts have not conclusively determined why some people suffer from panic attacks while others don’t, but they have identified several potential risk factors. The following may increase the likelihood that someone will have panic attacks:

  • Struggling with an anxiety disorder, a depressive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or a substance use disorder (addiction)
  • Having parents who have anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder
  • Developing certain medical conditions, including diseases or disorders that affect the heart, lungs, inner ear, or stomach
  • Structural abnormalities in the amygdala or other brain regions
  • Genetic variations
  • History of physical or sexual abuse during childhood
  • Being prone to negative emotions (a condition that clinicians refer to as negative affectivity)
  • Having recently had a negative experience after using legal or illicit drugs
  • The recent death of a loved one
  • Smoking

Can You Die From a Panic Attack?

Now that we’ve discussed the symptoms and possible causes of panic attacks, we’re ready to address the question that we posed at the top of this post: Can you die from a panic attack?

The good news is that it is extremely unlikely that you will die from a panic attack. The not-so-good news is that people who have panic attacks may have an increased risk of early death from other causes:

  • According to a September 2016 study in the British Journal of Psychiatry, the rate of premature death by either natural or unnatural causes is higher among people with anxiety disorders than among the general public. 
  • As we mentioned in the previous section, anxiety disorders can be a risk factor for panic attacks. 
  • One type of anxiety disorder – panic disorder – is characterized solely by recurring unexpected panic attacks.

How Are Panic Attacks Treated?

Panic attacks are typically treated with therapy and prescription medication. When determining the optimal course of treatment for someone who has been having panic attacks, one of the first decisions involves choosing the most appropriate level or levels of care. At Peachtree Wellness Solutions, we offer treatment for panic attacks at the following three levels:

Within each of these levels, patients may receive a variety of services. The specific elements of care that are incorporated into a person’s panic attack treatment plan may vary due to factors such as the frequency and severity of their panic attacks, if they have a substance use disorder or co-occurring mental health concerns, and what level of care they are in. Depending on those influences, treatment for panic attacks may involve services such as the following:

  • Medication management services
  • Individual and group therapy
  • Holistic therapy
  • Genetic testing
  • Biosound therapy
  • Neurofeedback therapy
  • Red light therapy
  • Spravato treatment

If medication used to treat panic attacks, the patient will most likely receive a prescription for a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), a serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI), or a benzodiazepine.

Begin Treatment for Panic Disorder in Atlanta, GA

If your life has been disrupted by panic attacks, Peachtree Wellness Solutions is here for you. Our center near Atlanta, Georgia, is a trusted source of personalized care for adults who have been struggling with panic attacks, anxiety disorders, and other mental health concerns. With the help of our skilled treatment professionals, you can achieve improved health and better overall quality of life. Finally, give us a call or visit our admissions page today to learn more.