Emotional Side Effects: Panic Attacks

It’s natural and normal (and common) for patients with mesothelioma and other cancers to experience heightened fear and anxiety. Some patients feel anxiety because they fear treatment, are nervous about doctor visits, or are frightened about receiving negative test results. Others become fearful at the thought of pain, dying, or what will happen after they die, including what may happen to their loved ones.

When anxiety becomes extreme, a patient may suffer a panic attack. Panic attacks are very sudden, and usually reach their peak within about 10 minutes of their onset. While a person may seem normal between panic attacks, many patients become fearful of future attacks, and this only serves to heighten their general anxiety. Here is a brief guide to panic attacks, including their symptoms and what you can do to help a loved one who is suffering from a panic attack.

Panic Attack Symptoms:

  • Racing heart
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness or discomfort in the chest area
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling faint
  • Lightheadedness
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Urge to escape
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • A feeling of detachment from oneself
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes

What You Can Do

It’s important to note that some panic attack symptoms, such as shortness of breath or a racing pulse, could be symptoms of a serious medical condition. If a patient has not had panic attacks before and is experiencing these symptoms, it’s a good idea to seek immediate medical help. If a person has experienced those panic attack symptoms in the past, they may be able to recognize that an attack is beginning and take steps to reduce their anxiety. If you are with a person who is having a panic attack, here are some things you can do to help:

  • Stay calm
  • Speak softly
  • Stay with the person until he or she is feeling better

Things not to do when someone is having a panic attack:

  • Try to minimize the person’s fear or anxiety
  • Pass judgment
  • Try to talk the person out of their anxiety or fear
  • Hesitate to call for help

If a person is prone to panic attacks, you may encourage them to seek help. Offer to meet with a specialist with them, and offer to drive the patient to the doctor if he or she is nervous about driving.

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