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Panic attacks are associated with very unpleasant bodily symptoms. But can such attacks be dangerous?

Photo: By Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash

This question is asked by Fredrik Lian, who is a psychologist at Lian & Fjell Psykologtjenester, in a new guest post on Here you read the whole post: 

Imagine sitting on the couch watching TV. As you reach for the coffee cup, you feel that something unpleasant is happening in the chest region. It's starting to tighten. Am I about to have a heart attack?

The thought of this scares you. The heart beats faster, you feel and notice that the pain in the chest becomes stronger. You are now absolutely sure that you are about to have a heart attack. You breathe faster and start hyperventilating. Fear escalates. You become dizzy and numb in your arms and legs. At this point, you are absolutely certain that you are about to die and call the emergency number.


Panic disorder and chest pains

Over 1/3 of the referrals to the cardiologist are due to panic attacks. The reason for this is that panic attacks often involve great pain in the chest region, and which thus shifts the mind towards heart failure. During a panic attack, it is common to hyperventilate. The consequence of this is that we exhale a lot of air in a short time, which in turn can cause the body to deplete itself of carbon dioxide (CO2). When this happens, what we call the partial pressure of CO2 in the blood vessels is reduced, which often feels as if something heavy is lying and pressing on our chest. When the breath stabilizes, the CO2 level will also return to normal and the chest pain will decrease.


Dizziness and other symptoms

However, chest pain, combined with dizziness, numbness, tingling, sweating and severe palpitations, is a very frightening experience for people, and it is common to have thoughts that panic attacks in themselves can be dangerous for the body.

But is it really dangerous?

The answer is no. In a 10-year long study, no association was found between anxiety and increased mortality. Fear is a mechanism that increases our probability of survival in the face of for example a hungry bear, but which is called anxiety if there is no actual danger nearby. The mechanism then becomes an unpleasant false alarm - and if it starts to go off more and more often, it can become a problem in everyday life.

Fortunately, there are good solutions. Research shows that the most effective treatment for anxiety and panic disorder is psychotherapy, along with a professional therapist that you enjoy and feel confident in. 

Do you struggle with panic disorder and want to talk to a psychologist in Oslo (Norway)? Feel free to contact us here:

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