My friend Susan was driving on a busy Atlanta highway when she was struck by what she was certain was a heart attack.
Her heart started pounding out of her chest, her breathing was so constricted she was gasping for air, and she was pouring sweat.
She managed to pull off the highway and call her husband, tearfully explaining what happened and that she needed to get to a hospital. He picked her up and headed straight to the emergency room.
After a battery of tests and hours at the hospital, the doctors told my friend her heart was perfectly normal. She hadn't had a heart attack. She'd had a panic attack.
Of course she was relieved she wasn't dying or didn't need surgery. But she was also embarrassed and confused. How could she be driving along the highway minding her own business and suddenly be blind-sighted by sheer terror and a host of symptoms that are classic heart attack warning signs?
Every time she got back in the car, especially if she had to drive on the highway, my friend felt extremely anxious and on edge, fearing another attack might happen. Over time, she stopped going out as much and would go to extremes to avoid the highway.
If this story sounds familiar to you, you're definitely not alone. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of American, over 6 million people in the U.S. suffer with panic disorder.Women are twice as likely to be affected as men.
According to the Association, "Panic disorder is diagnosed in people who experience spontaneous seemingly out-of-the-blue panic attacks and are preoccupied with the fear of a recurring attack. Panic attacks occur unexpectedly, sometimes even during sleep."
For many people, like my friend, the most difficult part of having panic disorder is the ongoing fear of having another attack -- as well as the embarrassment they feel about having them.
The fear compromises your life, making you avoid situations that you once enjoyed or felt perfectly comfortable with because you're so terrified of losing control. The embarrassment can make you suffer in silence without seeking support or treatment.
The symptoms of a panic attack do sound like textbook heart attack symptoms. They include: (more…)