There may be no simple, one-size-fits-all answer to the question, “Are panic attacks dangerous.” It seems to depend on the individual. Some people find the symptoms of panic attack to be so realistic that they believe major physical changes are taking place in their bodies. Some people who experience difficulty breathing and tightness in the chest that often accompanies an attack might overreact and tell a doctor or family member they are having a heart attack.
Those who experience a true panic attack will often feel their heart rate increase and they may feel light-headed or get dizzy. Some panic-attack sufferers will have nausea, their hands may tremble and shake, and they may experience sudden changes in body temperature. In many of these situations, including the supposed “heart attack” the symptoms are not life threatening, nor are they likely to do permanent damage to the body.
Common knowledge among medical personnel holds that panic-attack symptoms are not dangerous. They may, in fact, be rather harmless. Panic attacks are usually short-term events, lasting from 10 minutes to 30 minutes. In most cases, the episode peaks in a few minutes and tapers off. Sometimes the attack can last for an hour or two. If a person suffers consistent attacks (such as four in a month) he or she may be diagnosed as having panic disorder.
These situations may pose some threat to the health of the individual because the physical changes occur so regularly. If they are intense as well the effects could be more long term. Because the heart rate changes, muscle tension, shortness of breath and other symptoms put the body under significant stress, the person may become more susceptible to illness. The body’s immune system can be weakened to the point that illnesses become more than minor.
Doctors and psychologists have found that fear of a possible panic attack can contribute to the attack actually happening! Knowledgeable medical personnel urge their patients not to increase the chances of anxiety or panic by worrying about the effects of attack symptoms. In medical opinion it is better to give your effort to making lifestyle changes and reducing stress so that panic attacks don’t occur again.
This doesn’t mean that panic-attack sufferers should simply dismiss symptoms as meaningless. When we get into a situation that is outside the “normal” limits, as our body does in a panic attack, we definitely need to pay attention. Panic attacks and panic disorder are an indication that something is very wrong in our lives. Dizziness, difficulty breathing and feelings of hopelessness are symptoms of something deeper in our lives that can and should be changed.
So the common answer to the question posed at the beginning is “no,” panic attack symptoms are not dangerous in and of themselves. It’s when these physical changes take place in combination with another factor that they pose a real threat. If the individual has significant health problems, panic/anxiety symptoms might pose a bigger threat. If we are driving a car or operating machinery when an attack occurs, the consequences can be serious. But the panic attack alone is usually not dangerous.