Health Guide

Anxiety attacks

What is it?

An anxiety attack is a short period of strong fear that happens for no apparent reason. An anxiety attack is also known as a panic attack. An anxiety attack can be a one-time event or can become an ongoing problem. If you have two or more anxiety attacks in a month, you may have a condition called panic or anxiety disorder. If anxiety attacks become severe (very bad), they may keep you from living a normal life.


Caregivers do not know for sure what causes anxiety attacks. Sometimes being in a situation that you find upsetting causes them. You may have them due to a stressful life event, such as getting divorced. You are more likely to have anxiety attacks if you also have another mental health problem. Other mental health problems include depression (feeling very sad most or all of the time) or alcoholism (abusing alcoholic drinks). Anxiety attacks may happen for no reason. Anxiety attacks can happen to anyone, regardless of age or gender.

Some health conditions or medicines may cause anxiety attack symptoms. Using or withdrawing from alcohol or illegal drugs may also cause symptoms. Some people have anxiety attacks that are triggered (started) by the fear of having a future anxiety attack. You are more likely to have anxiety attacks if someone in your family also has them.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • The symptoms felt during an anxiety attack can feel like symptoms of a serious health problem, such as a heart problem. On the other hand, some serious health problems can cause anxiety attacks, such as heart or breathing problems. Have your symptoms checked by a caregiver to make sure they are not caused by a serious health problem.
  • The main symptom of an anxiety attack is extreme fear. Other signs and symptoms are different from person to person. The same person may even have different signs and symptoms during repeat anxiety attacks. Signs and symptoms usually do not last longer than 30 minutes. Besides fear, other signs and symptoms of an anxiety attack may include:
  • With panic or anxiety disorder, you may have anxiety attacks that happen often. These attacks often come without reason or warning. You may be troubled with a fear of having another anxiety attack. You may have a lot of anxiety attacks, followed by weeks or months without having any.
  • Some people become so fearful of having anxiety attacks that they are afraid to leave their house. This is called agoraphobia (ag-or-ah-FOH-bee-ah). People with agoraphobia may also fear being in crowds or in any place where they cannot leave quickly.

Wellness Recommendations:

  • Any exercise that causes your heart rate to increase is a good way to reduce anxiety. This includes walking, running, or biking.
  • Do not smoke, use drugs or alcohol, or drink coffee. These can cause anxiety or make your symptoms worse.

Medical Care:

Your caregiver may do some tests to see if you have other health problem that may be causing anxiety attacks. Counseling may help you understand what is causing the anxiety or fear. It may also be able to help you learn how to deal with your problem. A caregiver may give you medicine to help your anxiety or depression. If you do not get treatment for your anxiety attacks, you may develop other problems, like depression, using illegal drugs, or drinking too much alcohol.


Dietary measures

  • Your anxiety symptoms may decrease if you do not drink soda, coffee, or tea that contain caffeine.
  • Eating a vegetarian diet may decrease anxiety.

Herbs and Supplements:

Before taking any herbs or supplements, ask your caregiver if it is OK. Talk to your caregiver about how much you should take. If you are using this medicine without instructions from your caregiver, follow the directions on the label. Do not take more medicine or take it more often than the directions tell you to. The herbs and supplements listed may or may not help treat your condition.


  • Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) has been used for many years, but it has not been studied in people with anxiety attacks.
  • Hop flowers (Humulus lupulus) have been used for many years, but it has not been studied in people with anxiety attacks.
  • Kava (Piper methysticum) may be helpful for mild anxiety. When buying it, be sure the label on the bottle says the product is standardized to 70% kavalactones.
  • Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people with anxiety attacks.
  • Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) has been used for many years, but it has not been studied in people with anxiety attacks.
  • St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) has been used for many years.
  • Valerian (Valerian officinalis) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people with anxiety attacks.


  • 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) may help a little to decrease anxiety.
  • Inositol is not helpful for acute anxiety attacks but long term use may decrease anxiety.

Complementary Therapies:

  • Biofeedback can decrease anxiety levels.
  • Homeopathy can help anxiety.
  • Hypnosis can help anxiety.
  • Massage can decrease anxiety.
  • Meditation can decrease anxiety.
  • Pets may decrease anxiety.
  • Yoga may decrease anxiety.

Other ways of treating your symptoms:

Other ways to treat your symptoms are available to you.

Talk to your caregiver if:

  • You would like medicine to treat your anxiety.
  • Your symptoms have not gone away or improved by these self-help measures.
  • You have questions about what you have read in this document.


  • You have a sudden feeling of panic or fear that you cannot control.
  • You have chest pain, sweating, trouble breathing, or pain in your jaw, neck, and arm during an anxiety attack.

Care Agreement:

You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss your treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide which medicine and care will be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


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Last Updated: 7/4/2018
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