A mental illness through which people experience dread at the prospect of being exposed to the daily routine of community life (driving, shopping, etc). It causes extreme anxiety, heart palpitations, smothering sensations, trembling, nausea, faintness, sweating and gasping. The sufferers can be so anguished that they think they are dying or going mad. Agoraphobia and irritable bowel syndrome often accompany it.
In the USA it is estimated that some 2% of the population, or 13 million people, are susceptible to panic attacks.
Those diagnosing panic attacks will expect to find in their patient evidence of at least half of the following symptoms: changes in the skin during the attack involving flushing; pallor; sweating; alteration to the heart rate and rhythm, so that the heart races and is sometimes irregular; alterations to breathing causing the patient to pant, sometimes to the point of hyperventilation, with its associated chest pain and tingling, even spasm, in the hands and feet; changes in the gastrointestinal tract (nausea, vomiting, intestinal hurry and sometimes incontinence are common); other patients may have a strong desire to pass urine and may even leak. Those suffering panic attacks may often feel dizzy or be overcome by such overpowering feelings of weakness that they need to sit down.