Understanding the Link Between Panic Attacks and Physical Health

Experiencing regular panic attacks can be a scary thing. Panic attacks are made worse when one doesn’t understand why they occur. Fortunately, panic attack therapy can help. The other side of the coin is that regular panic attacks left untreated could have an impact on physical health.

Medical science has long understood the link between panic attacks and physical health. Indeed, panic attacks can generate actual physical symptoms. Over time, the stress of regular panic attacks can translate from mere physical symptoms into actual health concerns. Therapists hope to avoid letting things get that far by treating patients via panic attack therapy.

Panic Attacks’ Physical Symptoms

Panic is a normal human emotion designed for self-preservation. During moments of panic, a surge of stress-related hormones is experienced. These hormones induce what we refer to as the ‘fight or flight’ response. That response triggers physical reactions including:

  • Increased heart rate.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Increased respiration.
  • Tightness in the chest.
  • Perspiration.

In some people, the fight or flight response also triggers dizziness, lightheadedness, and even gastrointestinal distress. The thing to keep in mind is that none of the physical responses to panic are life threatening. They may make the situation scarier, but they will all subside along with the panic itself.

Long Term Physical Impacts

Although the physical symptoms related to momentary panic attacks are no big deal from an overall health standpoint, persistent panic attacks experienced over long periods of time are another matter. Persistent panic attacks can lead to what we call the ‘cycle of fear’. This cycle produces more panic attacks which, in turn, exacerbate physical symptoms. The associated stress can have a measurable impact on physical health.

Some of the long-term health consequences we are always concerned about with panic attacks include:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure).
  • Heart disease.
  • Weakened immune system.

When persistent panic attacks lead to physical health problems, the main culprit is usually stress. We all know how harmful stress can be if it is not managed properly. Indeed, managing stress is one of the goals of panic attack therapy. Keeping stress under control mitigates the risks of developing long term health issues as a result of panic attacks.

We sometimes rely on panic attack therapy to teach patients how to control their physical responses to panic. If a patient can temper his response, he can reduce both the intensity of an attack and the stress it creates. And if a patient can do so consistently, he can break the cycle of fear.

Conditions That Contribute to Panic Attacks

Thus far, we have looked at how panic attacks impact physical health. But did you know that it can work in the other direction? There are certain physical conditions that are capable of contributing to panic attacks. There are also some health conditions that demonstrate symptoms mimicking those of panic attacks. They include:

  • Hyperthyroidism.
  • Inner ear issues.
  • Heart conditions.

Prescription medications can also induce symptoms similar to those of a panic attack. Combining the right health condition with the right medication could easily lead to persistent panic attacks in an otherwise healthy patient.

Therapy Can Help

No doubt there are a lot of variables relating to panic attacks. The one thing that is pretty consistent is panic attack therapy. It has proved successful with patients from all walks of life. If you are experiencing regular panic attacks that are disrupting your life, we hope you will consider therapy. Panic attack therapy can help you overcome both the emotional and physical experiences that make your attacks so much more frightening.

Dr. Aryeh Berlin is a New Jersey licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Aspire Psychological Group. Dr. Berlin has vast clinical training experiences including a residential adolescent addiction treatment center in Israel, community mental health centers, and youth detention centers. Dr. Berlin has lectured on parenting children with emotional and behavioral difficulties, child development, helping children with school-related challenges and trauma. Audiences included attorneys, mental health professionals, parents, and educators.

Understanding the Link Between Panic Attacks and Physical Health