When Fear Takes Control of the Mind


This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

A panic attack is a sudden feeling of terror. Usually it does not last long, but it may feel like forever.

The cause can be something as normally uneventful as driving over a bridge or flying in an airplane. And it can happen even if the person has driven over many bridges or flown many times before.

A fast heartbeat. Sweaty hands. Difficulty breathing. A lightheaded feeling. At first a person may have no idea what is wrong. But these can all be signs of what is known as panic disorder.

The first appearance usually is between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four. In some cases it develops after a tragedy, like the death of a loved one, or some other difficult situation.

In the United States, the National Institute of Mental Health says more than two million people are affected in any one-year period.

The American Psychological Association says panic disorder is two times more likely in women than men. And it can last anywhere from a few months to a lifetime.

Panic attacks can be dangerous -- for example, if a person is driving at the time. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge in the state of Maryland is so long and so high over the water, it is famous for scaring motorists. There is even a driver assistance program to help people get across.

Some people who suffer a panic attack develop a phobia, a deep fear of ever repeating the activity that brought on the attack.

But experts say panic disorder can be treated. Doctors might suggest anti-anxiety or antidepressant medicines. Talking to a counselor could help a person learn to deal with or avoid a panic attack. There are breathing methods, for example, that might help a person calm down.

Panic disorder is included among what mental health professionals call anxiety disorders. A study published last week reported a link between anxiety disorders and several physical diseases. It says these include thyroid disease, lung and stomach problems, arthritis, migraine headaches and allergic conditions.

Researchers at the University of Manitoba in Canada say that in most cases the physical condition followed the anxiety disorder. But, they say, exactly how the two are connected remains unknown.

The report in the Archives of Internal Medicine came from a German health study of more than four thousand adults.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. I'm Mario Ritter.