Panic attacks: what they are and what to do about them
Panic attacks: what they are and what to do about them

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Panic attacks: what they are and what to do about them

1.1 Symptoms of panic

Described image
Figure 2 The Ancient Greek god Pan, whose voice was thought to cause panic

Psychiatric diagnosis involves a list of symptoms; if the patient has the required number of symptoms then they are said to have the diagnosis. You will now explore the diagnostic symptoms of panic attack according to DMS-5.

Activity 2 Symptoms of panic attacks

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

From the following list, select the options which you think might be symptoms of panic attacks, according to DSM-5. You are not expected to have any pre-existing knowledge of these; rather, the aim of the exercise is instead to get you thinking about what you might already know (e.g. from media reports) about panic attacks.


Feeling on the verge of tears


Palpitations, pounding heart or accelerated heart rate




Trembling or shaking


Feeling panicked




Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering


Feeling of choking




Chest pain or discomfort


Nausea or abdominal distress


Feeling an urge to talk really fast


Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded or faint


Feeling alone/lonely


Derealisation (feelings of unreality) or depersonalisation (feelings of being detached from oneself)


Fear of dying


Existential anxiety


Fear of losing control or going crazy


Feeling really afraid


Paraesthesia (numbness or tingling sensations)


Chills or heat sensations

The correct answers are b, c, d, g, h, j, k, m, o, p, r, t and u.


Were you surprised by any of the right or wrong answers? (For example, that feeling panicky is not on the symptom list?) Note too that the symptoms are a mix of unpleasant bodily sensations (shaking, heart beating fast, sweating, feeling faint), feelings and thoughts (fear you are dying or going crazy).

The ‘right’ answers are those as defined by DSM5, but there is a lot of debate about whether the list of symptoms is ‘right’ or appropriate and that individual experiences can be quite different.


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