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Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Anxiety and Panic Symptoms

An anxiety attack or panic attack is a rush of fear with sudden changes in your body. Psychologists define a panic attack as an experience of intense fear or discomfort that starts quickly, usually peaks within 10 minutes, and includes four or more of these symptoms [1]:

  • Rapid heart beat,
  • Sweating, trembling or shaking,
  • Feeling short of breath,
  • Feelings of choking,
  • Chest pain or discomfort,
  • Nausea or stomach distress,
  • Feeling dizzy or unsteady or faint,
  • Feeling as if you are not present or as if things are not real,
  • Fear that you are losing control or going crazy, and/or
  • Fearing you are dying.

Panic disorder is when you have had two or more panic attacks that seem to come out of the blue and you worry about having another panic attack or you have changed what you do out of fear of the attacks [1].

Agoraphobia means avoiding situations or activities out of fear of having another panic attack. Your fear of panic leads you to change what you do in ways that interfere with your life.

Anxiety and Panic Treatment

Research and experience show that most people get the best results from treating anxiety and panic without medicine. Cognitive behavioral treatment is the best practice treatment for anxiety.

Medication will not cure anxiety, but it can keep anxiety under control until the person receives psychotherapy. In certain situations, medication may be the best available option. For example, someone who needs an emergency MRI but is too anxious to go into the machine may benefit from a fast acting anti-anxiety medication such as alprazolam (Xanax).

Dr. McMahon specializes in brief effective treatment for anxiety related issues. See Anxiety Treatment for details. Her qualifications include 32 years at Kaiser Permanente Medical Group where in addition to helping hundreds of clients, she coauthored regional best practice guidelines for anxiety treatment and trained post-doctoral psychologists. See About Dr. McMahon for more information.

Call Dr, McMahon at 1-415-625-3565 for more information or to arrange an appointment.

Medication Note

If you take medication for anxiety, continue taking it as directed until you receive new instructions from your health care provider. Certain anti-anxiety medications must be discontinued gradually to avoid problems.

Anxiety and Panic Resources

  • Anxiety and Depression Association of America: information on anxiety conditions and treatment.
  • Australia Government Centre for Clinical Interventions: self help tools and information for a variety of issues.
  • National Institute for Mental Health Anxiety Disorders Handbook


[1] Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, fourth edition, text revision (DSM-IV-TR) published in 2000 by the American Psychiatric Association.