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7/24/2013 9:30:00 AM
Health officials say panic attacks are sudden, scary

Cheryl Hartz
News Editor


Health officials now recognize panic disorder as a real medical condition, not just nerves or stress.

The Mayo Clinic website describes the condition as: "A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you're losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.

"Many people have just one or two panic attacks in their lifetimes, and the problem goes away, perhaps when a stressful situation ends. But if you've had recurrent, unexpected panic attacks and spent long periods in constant fear of another attack, you may have a condition called panic disorder."

Panic attacks can strike at any time, anywhere - even when asleep. Symptoms include: a sense of impending doom; fear of loss of control or death; rapid heart rate; chest pain; sweating; trembling; chills; shortness of breath or hyperventilation; headache; dizziness; faintness; tightness in the throat and trouble swallowing. Symptoms usually peak within 10 minutes, and leave the victim feeling worn out.

For the sufferers, one of the worst things about panic attacks is fear of the next one, and where they'll be or what they'll be doing when it strikes. Intense cases can lead to agoraphobia - the fear of leaving the home - and people become virtual shut-ins.

Researchers don't know what causes panic disorder. They speculate genetics, major stress, or changes in brain function could be at fault, but do recognize some factors that increase the risk. These can include: family history of panic attacks; death or serious illness of a loved one; major life changes (having a baby, changing jobs, moving); childhood sexual abuse; and a traumatic event such as an accident.

Dr. Ference Nagy, with 42 years experience as a family physician, called such factors "situational anxiety disorder."

Dr. Nagy is a physician for the in-patient psychiatric crisis unit at Valle del Sol, a nonprofit organization that focuses on "total health - mind, body and spirit."

He said anxiety sufferers can help themselves cope by using common sense actions, which the Mayo Clinic also recommends.

He noted relaxation and repetitive activities, such as yoga or tai chi, prayer, meditation, and 20-minute walks, are calming. Sufferers should focus on natural sleep, unaided by meds. He also said to avoid caffeine, alcohol, pure carbs, sugar and sweets - but 80 percent cacao chocolate bars are fine.

"Hug your wife six times a day and your life expectancy goes up," he said, adding, "Have lunch with your best buddy.

"Explore significant triggers and try to avoid them."

Although the condition hinders a person's quality of life, treatment can be effective. Anyone experiencing a panic attack should seek medical help as soon as possible. Attacks are hard to manage alone, and can lead to complications: avoidance of social situations, problems at work or school, drug or alcohol abuse, financial problems, depression, and risk of suicide. That and the fact they mimic other serious health issues require a doctor's care.

"Mental health is not well-funded," Nagy said. "Insurance doesn't want to pay for it. Therapy time for coping skills is consuming and costly.

"Most people recognize their panic attacks are irrational. But we have to fix it, because ultimately, it will affect family life, work - everything."

Laura Norman, director of Development and Communication at West Yavapai Guidance Clinic, said her clinic has groups for those enrolled, but she is not aware of any community panic disorder groups, although anxiety disorder is the most common of mental health problems.

"We do have a free Senior Peer Program for those over 55," Norman said. "Some battle issues of depression, anxiety, and similar life issues, and that would be a resource. You don't need to go it alone."

She said the program has no financial eligibility requirement, and while it's not a treatment program, it can function as a prevention program, especially for people feeling isolated because of losing a spouse, financial challenges, chronic health conditions or other stress.

"It's a support group to adapt to life's changes and help seniors stay emotionally strong with the help of peers," she said.

Call 928-445-5211, ext. 2605, for more information on the program or to apply, or email m.meighan@wygc.org.

"People with no private insurance still can fall through the cracks, but if they're sick enough, there are funding sources and grants," she said, adding, "Anxiety is a mental health disorder with different levels of intensity."

For more information, visit: www.mayoclinic.com/health/panic-attacks

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Article comment by: no more panic attacks

Doctors are so useless when it comes to emotional issues. I pretty much cured my so-called panic disorder through diet. It was all the soda I was drinking. All that caffiene and sugar was making my body crazy. Any little stressor would trigger a panic attack because my blood sugar and cortisol and whatever else was all out of wack. Don't listen to these psychologists who don't know anything about the physiology behind emotional problems. Mood disorders are not mental problems. They are physiological problems. Pay attention to your body and figure out what it is either lacking or getting too much of. Don't let the doctors make you think you're crazy. Do not allow yourself to be labeled a mental patient. You most likely just have a sensitive body and need to be more careful about what you put into it.

Posted: Friday, July 26, 2013
Article comment by: Brenda Smith

Dr. Nagy fails to tell everyone that if you don't have insurance or AHCCCS that the only thing you qualify for is treatment by a doctor for medications under SMI which stands for serious mentally ill. This leaves you without counseling, support groups, and classes that are beneficial to your well being. He offers the advice of the senior group but what if your not 55 yet, like me I'm only a 47 so that leaves me without support.

Posted: Thursday, July 25, 2013
Article comment by: Tony Grizzly

How I can relate, anxiety and panic attacks have ruled my life for many years. I recently had a severe panic attack and did it change my life! I have found a system that has helped me when the doctors and drugs hasn't. My story and a mini review of this system at http://tonysreviews.com



Posted: Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Article comment by: jacinta pericola

Article published today coinsides with my story on anxiety.
if anyone in the community would like to donate a conference area for use once a month for a support group let me know




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