Panic Attack and Blood Pressure

Understanding this Panic Attack Disorder

To understand the link between a panic attack and blood pressure abnormalities, it is necessary to understand the exact reactions of the body to a stressful situation.

Panic attacks are brought on by the body’s natural instinct to flee a stressful or frightening situation. Long ago, this reaction was a defense mechanism to get away from a very real danger. Called the “fight or flight syndrome,” it is difficult in modern times to physically run away from stress, and blood pressure will raise accordingly when the person cannot escape the stress inducing event that is bringing on the attack. The sudden and rapid release of the naturally occurring chemical epinephrine, or adreneline, causes the familiar chest pains, diffuse sweating, shortness of breath, elevated blood pressure, and feelings of impending disaster. The heart is compensating for the release of adrenaline, trying to pump more blood by beating much faster and working significantly harder than normal. This combination completes the picture of an individual who suffers an ongoing high level of stress, which may be followed by a panic attack and blood pressure abnormalities.

Conversely, it has been proven that individuals already diagnosed with high blood pressure are more prone to panic attacks. Ongoing stress itself is a little understood trigger for high blood pressure, and during a panic attack blood pressure can rise to truly dangerous levels. These are the people who are in danger of suffering a cardiac event, such as a heart attack, during a panic attack.

Relationship Between Panic Attack and Blood Pressure

The correlation between panic attacks and blood pressure elevation becomes even more clear when considering that the attack itself can be caused by pre-existing high blood pressure. Although hypertension is considered the silent killer, some people do react to extreme blood pressure elevation with feelings of impending doom, shortness of breath, headaches, chest pains, extreme sweating, and the general feeling of coming out of one’s skin. These symptoms are very similar to those seen during a full blown panic attack. Stopping a panic attack might be, for these individuals, as simple as being placed on blood pressure medications.

On some occasions blood pressure will drop during a panic attack, and this might result in fainting or passing out. In cases such as this, drinking water to regulate hydration levels and drinking a soda or orange juice to keep blood sugars elevated during periods of high stress might be helpful. Other causes of fainting during a panic attack could include hyperventilation, in which the body’s natural defense is to lose consciousness to restore normal breathing patterns; after a loss of consciousness, the person will quickly regain consciousness again, breathing normally. This is one of the reasons that breathing techniques are stressed as a coping mechanism during a panic attack.

A Medical Checkup May Be Recommended

Panic attack and blood pressure abnormalities really do go hand in hand. While a person with normal blood pressure is unlikely to suffer a heart attack during the panic episode because of the short lived nature of the episode itself and the relatively rapid return of the blood pressure to normal levels, a person already diagnosed with high blood pressure may truly be in danger of a cardiac event. It is for this reason that panic attacks and blood pressure should be monitored closely, and never taken lightly.

Before seeking treatment for the episodes themselves, a check up at the doctor’s office is a good first step to rule out any physical reasons for the panic attack, and blood pressure evaluation is an important factor in this visit.


Related terms: Anxiety Attacks and Blood Pressure, Panic Disorder and Blood Pressure, High Blood Pressure Attacks

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