General Question

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

Panic attacks or something else?

Asked by ItalianPrincess1217 (11657points) December 28th, 2018

I’ve been experiencing these strange episodes. They’ve happened before, as far back as my teenage years. The past month they’ve become much more frequent though. Sometimes I’ll have them twice a day, other times I’ll skip a few days and be fine.

The episodes can last a few minutes to 20 minutes although it seems like hours. I can always feel the buildup. I begin to feel light-headed, dizzy, nauseous, my heart jumps around, I have lots of butterflies in my stomach, throat tightens, and I have this awful feeling that I’m dying or having a heart attack. Sometimes I get hot flashes and feel like I’m on the verge of fainting. I lay down but that doesn’t seem to help. My blood pressure is on the lower side (100/72) but I’m not sure that’s low enough to cause issues and my doctor has never been concerned.

Awhile back I was given Clonazepam for anxiety but I only ever took them before bed to help me sleep. I don’t have any left so I’m not sure if taking it would help in the moment. From your experience, does this sound like a panic attack or something else? This is getting frustrating. I walk around in fear of another one happening and I’m wondering if maybe I’m even bringing them on at this point. It’s important to note I do have a doctor’s appointment Monday.

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50 Answers

josie's avatar

My cousin’s wife gets panic attacks and those are the symptoms almost exactly.
Hang on till Monday.

Kardamom's avatar

It could be, but it could also be severe migraines. I had both, not at the same time, when I was a kid, but they were not diagnosed (the migraines) until I was 18 and ended up in the hospital. Turns out that I am one of those folks who the warning label on birth control pills is for.

The hormones in the pill caused my massive migraine. It didn’t present as “head pain” at all, but I had aphaysia, the inability to talk, and weird, very unpleasnt sensitivity to light and touch.

I have no idea what caused the migraines I had as a kid, but I was such a picky eater, that it may have been a deficiency in some type of nutrient.

As an adult, my diet is excellent, even though I am a vegetarian. I eat more types of food than most people, and am very conscious of getting all my nutrients.

After the episode at 18, my doctor said that I had to avoid the pill, and other hormone treatments such as HRT for menopause. I have not had another one since then, I am 55 now.

The panic attacks that I have had started at age 7, in direct response to heights. I avoid flying and going into tall buildings, or going on roller coasters, so I rarely have panic attacks anymore, but they can be easily triggered. They have a similar feeling of a sense of doom as the migraines did.

Make sure you write down all of the symptoms, and what you were doing, and what you ate and drank, and what meds you might take, before these episodes occur, so you can tell the doctor.

Good luck, please update us. I wouldn’t wish either of these things on anyone.

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

@Kardamom I do get migraines but those have luckily been diagnosed and managed well. I started to log things just as you suggested so I can show my doctor. I always assumed panic attacks came from being stressed in the moment. I’m finding out that’s not true. I’ll definitely keep you updated!

gondwanalon's avatar

Ask your doctor to check you for heart arrhythmias. Wearing a “holter monitor” for at least 48 hours would tell your doctor exactly how your heart is doing while you are having a “panic attack”.

I suffered from similar symptoms as you and it turned out my heart was going in and out of atrial fibrillation and other arrhythmias.

Good health!

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

@gondwanalon Thanks, I will definitely bring that up. How were you treated for that?

notnotnotnot's avatar

Textbook panic attacks – including the anticipatory anxiety. Talk to your doctor*.

* As someone who has had a panic disorder many years ago, I just need to warn you about Clonazepam/Klonopin/Xanax and the rest of the benzos. These have some use in a limited way, but are only really a bandaid, and can cause additional problems due to how addictive they are. Panic disorder is best treated via cognitive behavioral therapy. If medication is needed to supplement the therapy, SSRIs are better in the long-term (Prozac, for example).

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

@notnotnotnot I have a feeling you’re right about it being anxiety related. I was in therapy for years but last month we moved almost 2 hours away. I have to switch all of my doctor’s and finding a new psychologist has proven difficult. I do remember practicing some “grounding” exercises couple years ago. Maybe I’ll try that again when another episode pops up. If that works, it’s probably safe to assume it’s anxiety related. I take Wellbutrin XL. I tried many ssri’s and did terrible on all of them. Wellbutrin was the only thing that didn’t make me severely depressed and numb.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I had that happen to me twice in my life. It’s exactly like you describe it, but I felt like I couldn’t breath. The first time I was a young, stay at home Mom. My kids were toddlers. I called my sister, managed to convey the situation and asked her to stay on the phone in case I passed out so she could call someone. I tried to go Zen, just calm myself, slow my breathing, concentrate on slowing my heart. It finally passed after about 10 minutes.

The second time wasn’t long after that. My Mom had come to visit and we had taken the kids to the zoo. We were in the herpitarium when it hit. I found a place to sit quietly, in the dark, thankful my Mom was there so she could take the kids if I died….but she was NO help. I’m trying to Zen, and she’s nervously patting my leg, demanding that I tell her what is wrong. She demanded that I pray the demons away. She kept demanding answers and patting and patting me nervously. I kept asking her to leave me alone but she wouldn’t.

It’s never happened since so I’m no help, am I! I’m sorry you’re having them. I hope the doc can give you some answers.

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

@Dutchess_III Sometimes it feels hard to breathe, but not in the sense that I’m rapidly breathing. More like I can’t take a deep enough breath, or that I’m not breathing enough to get air. It’s hard to explain! All I know is that it’s not a feeling I like to re-live often. Ever since the move I’ve really started slacking on taking care of myself. Maybe I just need to take some time and find balance again. Once I’m able to rule out any real health issues, I’ll be able to rest easier. As scary as they feel, at least a panic attack can’t kill me.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Right. Right. That’s exactly what it was.

There was a 3rd time, 8 or 9 years later. I woke up completely unable to breath. Kids were old enough to stay by themselves for a bit. I managed to very, very, very slowly go out the door, go down the steps, get in my car (this took about 5 minutes) then drove myself to the ER. I could feel the very act of blinking stealing air from me.
I checked in. “I…..cant….breath.”
I was checked into a room. I sat on the table, utterly still, utterly motionless, everything focused on getting air. The nurse was getting some things ready and she glanced back at me, then looked again. “Are you OK?” she asked.
“I….cant….breath.” YOU BLEEDING IDIOT!!!!!! WHAT DO YOU THINK I A HERE FOR!!! CAN’T YOU READ??!! Maybe she thought I was faking it or something.
She gave me a breathing treatment and almost I instantly felt 100% better.
That may have been similar to the other attacks I had but the not being able to breath was so terrifying it eclipsed anything else I may have been feeling.

Anyway…..maybe a breathing treatment could be your ticket when it happens? They have home nebulizers. That would be SO nice if it worked.

Dutchess_lll's avatar

Could it be asthma attacks and the inability to breath brings on the panicky feeling?

JLeslie's avatar

Sounds like a panic attack. Moving is extremely stressful. Plus, aren’t you taking something that screws around with your hormones? Hormones can have direct effects on BP, heart rate, and more.

It also sounds like hyperthyroid, so hopefully the doctor will test your thyroid, just to rule it out. I think it’s very important he rule it out. If your TSH is on the low side of normal it might be making you more prone to anxiety, but not low enough to treat you, but then at least you know what’s going on. I think it’s mite likely “just” stress, but you should get the blood test in my opinion. TSH, T4free, T3. He might do TSH only, which is ok, but not as good as all three.

I’m sure he’ll do some basic cardiac stuff to be in the safe side, but I doubt you have anything wrong there.

Lastly, anticipatory stress is some of the worst stress, and it’s a snowball. Worrying you will have an episode can bring on an episode, it’s a vicious circle. The fear of fear. Anything you can do to not get into that feedback loop do it. People who are agoraphobic do this to an extreme. They don’t leave their house for fear of what could happen.

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

I had another tonight. Still coming off it right now. My heart was fluttering so much and I was so nervous. I was able to take my blood pressure this time and it was 90/62. I’m not sure if that’s causing anyting. I wouldn’t think so? But I would also think if someone is anxious their blood pressure would be highly, not low.

@Dutchess_III Not that I know what asthma feels like but if I had to guess, it’s not asthma.

@JLeslie I don’t take anything hormonal. I’ve had my thyroid checked in the past but I think it was only one of those, not 3. You’re right about getting into a vicious cycle. It seems like this is becoming a nightly thing and now I’m always anticipating it.

Demosthenes's avatar

Yes, that sounds like a panic attack. The length of it sounds unusual, but maybe it’s different for different people. The longest panic attack I’ve ever had was only a few minutes long. I couldn’t imagine feeling that for 20 minutes.

notnotnotnot's avatar

Until you see your doctor, look up directions on pursed-lip diaphragmatic breathing techniques. These techniques should be able to provide you an immediate tool that can stop the avalanche of flight-fight adrenaline panic.

I know from first hand experience that serious panic disorders are something that can be completely overcome. You can kick this.

Your doctor will likely order a bunch of tests to eliminate physical issues. When/if they come back negative, just know that you will beat this. It’s very common.

Dutchess_lll's avatar

I wouldn’t have called my episodes “asthma” either until I put the last one with the breathing treatment in. Like I said, maybe being unable to breath cause the panic? How would a doctor check for asthma you guys?

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

@Dutchess_III Was breathing one of your first and main symptoms? I panic first and then the strange symptoms follow. Trouble breathing isn’t one of my first symptoms.

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

@notnotnotnot That’s encouraging to hear. It’s starting to feel like even thinking about it puts me on the verge of another. It’s maddening. And it’s honestly impossible for me to tell in the moment whether I’m dying (until it’s over and I realize I’m still alive) or having a panic attack.

Dutchess_lll's avatar

It was more than 30 years ago. It was too terrifying each time to properly dissect them. I just put the three together, just now, and now I wonder. It’s something to consider. Was I panicked because I couldn’t breath, like I would panic if I was drowning? How do you sort that out?

YARNLADY's avatar

Yes, but In my experience, it’s not always stress, but rather hormone imbalance.

JLeslie's avatar

Does your heart feel like a flutter? Or, is it just racing? More like pounding?

Regarding your pressure it probably gets pushed down as a reaction to the rapid heart rate, and then maybe recovers back to a higher number. Have you taken your pressure an hour after an event? Or, randomly in the middle of the day?

A fast thyroid can also cause low blood pressure.

I think it’s most likely stress is a big factor, but you might be prone to panic attack not only from brain wiring, and outside stressors, but also hormones even in normal range, but near to the limits of the range. In that situation you can only control how you deal with the stress, which can actually require your brain.

It will be good to rule out any heart arrhythmias though. I think you were evaluated for that a few years ago? Or, did you never see a cardiologist?

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

@JLeslie My heart feels like it’s both pounding really hard and skipping beats. I checked it though and it’s not racing during those times. Last night it was 72 bpm when I was feeling strange. No I never did see a cardiologist. I’m going to take my pressure today when I feel fine to compare the numbers. I meant to do that last night but fell asleep.

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

@JLeslie 97/69 right now. I took it 3 times to be sure. It was around the same each time. I feel fine.

JLeslie's avatar

That’s lowish, but it’s not terribly low, especially if you feel ok. If you have lightheaded feelings then it’s not ok. Maybe check it twice a day so you have data for the doctor.

Definitely check your thyroid again if they run blood tests I think.

I can tell you that I usually only feel my heart arythmia when my heart is very slow or very fast. Under 55 and above 75. I hate it. I don’t feel it when my heart is fast during exercise, but if my resting heart rate is up at 75 or 80 I feel it.

What is your resting heart rate when you feel fine?

Don’t be panicked about your heart. Even if it is your heart my guess is it’s benign or easily looked after. I still think it’s mostly stress, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other factors. I feel better knowing what’s wrong with my heart, but also knowing the doctors aren’t concerned about any of the abnormalities (for now). Previous to being diagnosed I knew something wasn’t right with my heart and my GP had told me my ekg was fine and dismissed it, so I continued to have to wonder or question his competence, etc.

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

@JLeslie The worse I feel the slower my resting heart rate seems. Nothing extremely low though. It’s never under 60 and never above 80 when I’ve checked. At the doctors they’ve caught it over 80 but that’s right after I’ve been moving around and nervous. Something I do find weird is when I workout, it’s hard to do cardio because of how high my rate goes. Also, I noticed after I drink too much coffee or eat a big meal I tend to have these episodes. Maybe caffeine is setting off anxiety? Or too much sugar?

gondwanalon's avatar

@ItalianPrincess1217 Atrial fibrillation for me was difficult to treat. Basically 12 years of very strong drugs (brutal) and many shock treatments and hospital stays followed by two surgical operations. The last operation has been successful for 5½ years without drungs. I’m feeling terrific now.

JLeslie's avatar

Caffeine definitely could be aggravating it.

They could do a stress test. That way they see your heart rate, blood pressure while exercising and as you recover from exercise.

Or, they could have you record your heart at night while you’re having an episode.

Just describe everything when you see the doctor. I suggest bring some notes so you don’t miss anything. Just the few points on a page.

My heart rate is around 50 usually. I hate it so low. Goes down into the 40’s. Ugh.

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

@JLeslie Monday can’t come soon enough. Today has been rough.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Bet they put you on a heart monitor for a week or so.

JLeslie's avatar

@ItalianPrincess1217 Do try to reduce your caffeine. It might help. Don’t go cold turkey and cut it all out in a day.

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

@Dutchess_III I kind of hope they do just so I can rest easier.

JLeslie's avatar

You probably won’t even need it a week if the episodes are happening every day. My first monitor I only had a day. The second time (years later) it was 3 days.

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar


The doctor is starting with blood work and refilling my anxiety meds in the meantime. To quote, “Could it be something serious? Yes. Is it likely at your age and medical history? Probably not.” He thinks it’s a textbook panic attack and that the move/being without my meds has increased them. I’ll take the meds when another hits and see if it works. He also said he’s going to keep an eye on my blood pressure but that he doesn’t feel it’s ow enough to cause issues at this point.

JLeslie's avatar

^^Sounds reasonable. Did he test your TSH?

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

@JLeslie Yes, that’s one of the things included in the blood work.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Did you ask him about an inhaler?

JLeslie's avatar

^^It doesn’t sound like she has asthma? Or, did I miss something?

Dutchess_III's avatar

Asthma isn’t the only thing that can cause your trachea to want to lock up. I don’t have asthma either, but the inhaler sure worked when I needed it. Dakota doesn’t have asthma, but over these last couple of days it has sure helped her when she found herself having a hard time breathing.

Not being able to breath can sure contribute to the panic.

JLeslie's avatar

^^Interesting. When I feel like I can’t get enough oxygen it doesn’t seem related to being able to take in a breath, but I’m not in a panic attack, it’s a different situation.

Mine seems related to very low heart rate, and maybe low iron too, I’m not sure about the latter. It’s awful feeling like that.

My pulse-ox is always really good though. I read something a few months ago about normal pulse-ox and not getting enough oxygen, and I can’t remember it now. Anyway, years ago, when I first got on thyroid medication it raised up my heart rate and it was like finally I felt oxygenated again. It was great. But, her heart rate seems fine, so it’s different. I’m not trying to say my experience and medical needs are the same as hers.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I don’t have panic attacks either. I’ve just had a handful of isolated episodes in my life of something. But I don’t know what.

JLeslie's avatar

^^Do you check your heart rate when it happens? High BP often happens with low heart rate, but not necessarily. I wonder if the asthma drug raises heart rate?

Dutchess_III's avatar

No I don’t. I focus 100% on breathing very slowly, very shallowly and very carefully, and trying not to pass out. I don’t make any extra movements. I even try to stop thinking.

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

@JLeslie Inhalers can definitely have a side effect of increased heart rate and palpitations. I actually had an inhaler years ago and it gave me anxiety. It speed up my heart so much I nearly had a panic attack. I also remember when I had to give my daughter breathing treatments when she was really sick and her heart would go wild and she wasn’t able to sleep for awhile afterwards.

@Dutchess_III He didn’t feel it was asthma related at all based on the fact that the episodes starts with me feeling light headed, nauseous, butterflies, etc. None of it was breathing related. The erratic breathing only happens sometimes and once I’m in the throws of a panic attack. It’s a common symptom I guess.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Yeah, I got hit with that once. I was having some sort of something in the car, and I couldn’t breath so I used my inhaler. WHOOOSH!!! My world started going black. I almost fainted. I had Rick get me to the hospital. Everything checked out ok, so what can you say?

And yet, that other time it was exactly what I needed. So I don’t know.

JLeslie's avatar

I think panic attacks can cause hyperventilating actually. So, breathing into a paper bag should help that, but check to see if I’m right before you try it.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Yeah, well, I’ve told you 3 times I don’t have panic attacks. I don’t know why you keep giving me advice on panic attacks that I haven’t asked for. I do not know what it was. The hospital had no explanation either. The doctor’s don’t know, but apparently you do? Stop already, please.

JLeslie's avatar

^^Who are you talking to? I’m not giving you advice. I am asking questions to learn about your experience to see if it might apply to myself.

The hyperventilating was for ItalianPrincess who most likely is having panic attacks.

Dutchess_III's avatar

You need to specify who you are addressing, especially if it is not the person who posted directly above you. That would have been me in this case. How am I, or anyone else, supposed to know you weren’t talking to me?

JLeslie's avatar

^^The poster has the panic disorder and it’s her Q. Sorry if it was confusing.

Dutchess_III's avatar

It’s not unheard of for people to go off on side discussions with each other, with or without the OP. It’s a question of good communication skills @JLeslie.

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