Menopause and panic attacks

 

Panic attacks can feel terrifying – you can’t breathe, feel sick, shake and lose control. They can last for just seconds at a time or up to an hour. You may have had one or several and there are many individual factors that contribute to why you’re experiencing them. Read on for information to spot and manage them.

PANIC ATTACK DEFINITION

A panic attack is generally defined as a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physiological reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.

Panic attacks can feel extremely frightening and can feel like you’re having a heart attack or even dying. Although panic attacks aren’t life-threatening, they can significantly affect your quality of life.

If you are spending your days feeling stressed and on edge… download Stella.

HOW LIKELY ARE PANIC ATTACKS DURING MENOPAUSE?

  • 1 in 4 women experience anxiety symptoms during menopause, including panic attacks
  • For many women, they’ll experience a panic attack for the first time in their life during the menopause

Read more about the stages of menopause.

SIGNS OF A PANIC ATTACK

During a panic attack, you get an intense rush of mental and physical symptoms. It can come on very quickly without warning and, sometimes, for no immediately apparent reason, which can be very distressing.

Most panic attacks last between five and 20 minutes, although some have been reported to last up to an hour. Also, be aware that most of these symptoms can relate to other conditions or problems, so may not always be experiencing a panic attack. For example, a racing heartbeat can mean you have low blood pressure.

Symptoms can include:

  • A racing heartbeat
  • Feeling faint
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trembling
  • Hot flushes
  • Chills
  • Shaky limbs

  • A choking sensation
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness or pins and needles
  • Dry mouth
  • A need to go to the loo
  • Ringing in your ears
  • A feeling of dread/doom/dying
  • A churning stomach
  • A tingling in your fingers
  • Feeling like you’re not connected to your body

What to do during panic attack?

Try not to fight it and remember it's not life threatening

Stay where you are and focus on breathing slowly and deeply

Remember that the attack will pass

Focus on positive, peaceful and relaxing images

Panic attack and menopause

Overall, it is thought that hormonal changes associated with menopause make panic attacks during midlife more prevalent.

Oestrogen and progesterone usually work together to regulate mood. As these hormones drop off in midlife, women are more at risk of developing anxiety. If this is overwhelming or left untreated it can ramp up into panic attacks.

Menopausal hot flushes may also bring on panic attacks, as women can worry and feel self-conscious about sweating in public.

Although panic attacks are frightening, they’re not dangerous.

An attack will not cause you any physical harm, and it’s unlikely you’ll be admitted to hospital if you have one.

However, you may feel unsafe, especially if a panic attack happens in a public place and you’re feeling unprepared to navigate through it.

Long-term anxiety and panic attacks can cause your brain to release stress and “fight or flight” hormones cortisol and adrenaline on a regular basis.

This can increase the frequency of symptoms such as headaches, dizziness and depression.

If you feel that you might have symptoms of panic attacks that make day-to-day living feel tough, it might be a good time to book an appointment with your doctor or speak to someone you trust about getting help.

Repeated or regular panic attack episodes may also indicate a panic disorder, which can be characterised as having feelings of anxiety, stress and panic regularly and at any time, often for no apparent reason.

When an attack happens, my body feels light and I can see myself from above. I feel like I am disintegrating and physically gone.”

Erin

DISCOVER MORE

Dealing with panic attacks, rage and early menopause. Read more

How to manage the mental chaos of anxiety. Read more

How exercise can really keep your anxiety in check. Read more

WHAT PANIC ATTACK RELIEF IS AVAILABLE?

Download Stella for personalised cognitive behaviour therapy for mood changes during menopause

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https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/panic-attacks {accessed 16/01/2021}

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/panic-disorder/ {accessed 16/01/2021}

Siegel AM, Mathews SB. Diagnosis and treatment of anxiety in the aging woman. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2015 Dec;17(12):93.

Smoller JW, Pollack MH, Wassertheil-Smoller S, et al. Prevalence and correlates of panic attacks in postmenopausal women: results from an ancillary study to the Women’s Health Initiative. Arch Intern Med. 2003;163(17):2041-2050. doi:10.1001/archinte.163.17.2041

Freeman EW, Sammel MD, Liu L, Gracia CR, Nelson DB, Hollander L. Hormones and Menopausal Status as Predictors of Depression in Women in Transition to Menopause. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2004;61(1):62–70. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.61.1.62

Freeman EW, Sammel MD. Anxiety as a risk factor for menopausal hot flashes: evidence from the Penn Ovarian Aging cohort. Menopause. 2016;23(9):942-949. doi:10.1097/GME.0000000000000662

https://gen-m.com/symptoms/panic-disorders/ {accessed 16/01/2021}