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Panic Attacks and Stroke Symptoms
November 2000

Q. I have been treated for panic disorder. I would like to know if panic attacks and strokes could possibly have the same kind of symptoms? Here is a list of my symptoms: 1. I have numbness on my left side leg, arm, and face; 2. Dizziness; 3. Pains in the back of the head; 4. Blurry vision. My doctor says these are a part of my panic attacks and that I don't need to see a neurologist even though there is family history of strokes at a early age. If you could clarify that panic attacks and strokes have the same symptoms, it would help to ease my mind.

A. Panic disorder is a type of anxiety, affecting about 1% of women and 2% of men. Many people experience a single panic attack, extreme anxiety characterized by fear and accompanied by such symptoms as rapid heart rate, sweating, and shaking. When it occurs repeatedly without obvious cause, it is called panic disorder. The disorder usually responds well to treatment using psychotherapy and medication. Some of the symptoms of anxiety can certainly resemble symptoms of a stroke or TIA in which blood flow to the brain is interrupted.

Strokes usually strike people who are at least 65 years old, and they're particularly common in men and African Americans. High blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, a smoking habit, excess alcohol consumption, and obesity all make strokes more likely. And the birth control pill causes a slight increase in the likelihood of a blood clot. Other medical conditions can cause temporary interruption of blood flow to the brain and cause a variety of symptoms. A consultation with a neurologist may lead to clarification on the symptoms you are having.

HELPFUL WEBSITES:

http://www.apa.org/pubinfo/panic.html

http://www.mentalhealth.com/dis/p20-an01.html

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/anxiety/anxiety/panic/pdfax.htm

MEDICAL REFERENCES (usually available through the library of your local hospital):

Uhlenhuth EH, Balter MB, Ban TA, et al: International study of expert judgment on therapeutic use of benzodiazepines and other psychotherapeutic medications: VI. Trends in recommendations for the pharmacotherapy of anxiety disorders, 1992-1997. Depress Anxiety 9:107, 1999

Ballenger JC, Davidson JR, Lecrubier Y, et al: Consensus statement on panic disorder from the International Consensus Group on Depression and Anxiety. J Clin Psychiatry 59 (suppl 8):47, 1998

Ballenger JC: Panic disorder: Efficacy of current treatments. Psychopharmacol Bull 29:477, 1993

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