Can You Die from a Panic Attack?

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Panic attacks can be very debilitating, with symptoms of racing heart, feeling weak or faint, tingling or numbness in hands/fingers, sense of terror, feeling sweaty/having chills, chest pains, breathing difficulty, and more. For a person amid a panic attack, perceptions or worries of dying are likely a common thought. The good news, is that a person cannot simply die from solely having a panic attack.

Although panic attacks alone are not deadly, they can be dangerous if paired with an illness such as a heart condition, for example, because the stress may make the condition worse. However, heart conditions develop over time, and those who suffer from a heart condition can be evaluated by a doctor for symptoms of stress and to rule out any problems they may have.

Hyperventilation, a condition in which the person breathes very fast, upsetting the balance of their breath, may happen during a panic attack. While not deadly, this condition may make the person feel like fainting or passing out because hyperventilation blocks blood flow to the brain. If someone experiences this, they can recover quickly by belly-breathing. Belly-breathing is when the individual places their hand on their stomach, just below their ribs. They place the other hand on their chest, taking a deep breath in through the nose, and out through pursed lips, moving their hand down with each breath. After the individual does this 3-10 times they should feel their breath resuming normal breathing patterns. Another technique is for the person to breathe into a brown paper bag – this causes the person to re-inhale the carbon dioxide that they exhaled, restoring that lost gas.

If someone is suffering from a panic attack, there are several effective ways to work through this:

  • Focus on breathing slowly and deeply.
  • Find a relaxing place to breathe.
  • Find an object to focus on – this could be a person, uplifting movie, positive song, funny book, etc.
  • Utilize muscle relaxation techniques, such as tensing and relaxing one’s toes, feet, ankles, calves, and slowly moving up the body until the person reaches the top of their head.
  • Practice cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques, such as counting 5 things the person can see, 4 things they can hear, 3 things they can touch, 2 things they can smell, and 1 thing they can taste. This helps the person focus on something other than their anxiety.

A panic attack alone will not kill someone, but the effects can be incredibly frightening. Anyone who suffers from panic attacks should speak with their doctor about other healthy ways to manage their stress. Recovery from a panic attack is possible and there are so many wonderful tools and resources (including apps) that can assist a person in situations like these.

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