When you first experience a panic attack you think: “Oh my God! I am dying”
Then when you realize you are still alive, your second thought is: “Ok, I didn’t die that time, what can I do so that I won’t die on the next episode?”
Obviously you think that there is something wrong somewhere in your body, possibly in your heart or in your head, because without a physical cause it is so difficult to understand and justify a panic attack.
If I were completely healthy, I wouldn’t feel like this.
And so begins the quest, in search of the responsible party for this malaise.
One of the biggest player in a panic attack game is the heart. Palpitations almost always accompany every attacks, so one of the biggest fear is that there is something wrong with the heart and we better get it checked out before we get a heart attack (that’s what a panic attacks feels to many new sufferers).
So we first see a Cardiologist.
I’ve seen a cardiologist many times over the years, and pretty much every time I’ve been told that my heart is healthy. But if I let 6 months to 1 year pass, the next time I get symptoms I still go back to the doctor, just to make sure. On this last visit, for the first time I had a less than stellar diagnosis: my heart has PVCs (premature ventricular contractions) and it is also “out of shape”. This of course explains why I’ve been feeling so wiped out so often this past year, but the reason why my heart is so out of shape at 37 is still one of the questions I need answered. Maybe it’s because I don’t do any kind of exercise? Possibly. So add that (exercise) to my “to do” list.
When we realize that the heart is not the cause, or at least, is not going to fail us during one of these attacks, our attention shifts to the next most important part of our body: the brain. If we are not having a heart attack, now we need to make sure we don’t have a brain tumor.
The fact that we feel dizzy, unstable, afraid without any reasons, and considering it is not the heart’s fault we feel so queasy, then it’s normal to feel that these panics must be caused by the other big organ in our body, the one that controls all of our emotions, the one that must be somehow damaged.
And how can the brain be damaged? But a brain tumor, of course.
So now we need to convince our primary doctor to let us see a Neurologist.
The neurologist is important because it can prescribe an MRI of the brain, so much needed and helpful in diagnosing anything wrong with the brain. The scary part about the neurologist visit, is that before you can get the MRI prescription, you might have to have some other tests done, and let me tell you about these “other” tests called EMG (electromyogram) of the legs and the arms… they are not fun! They basically shock your muscles and nerves to test their reaction, and they also stick little needles in your skin to test even further.
Because I suffer from Lupus before I suffer with panic attacks, I almost get a free card in and out of doctors’ offices.
What I mean is that if I didn’t have Lupus, I probably would have a much harder time getting doctors to perform or prescribe certain tests for me, but as soon as I say “I have Lupus, and I would like to make sure it hasn’t damaged my heart, brain, kidneys, eyes, stomach, muscles, skin, feet, bones, hair, teeth, etc.” then those tests became that much more accessible to me. Which is good and bad at the same time. Good because I got the MRI prescription. Bad because I had to endure the EMG test on my legs (ouch!) and on my arms (ouch! ouch!) in case the Lupus had damaged my nerves.
Fortunately, I passed the EMG test. No substantial nerve damage, just a pinched nerve on my right elbow. And the MRI came back with no brain tumor in it.
So basically, between the two big doctors’ visit I had PVCs, a lazy heart, and a bum elbow. No clues as to what might be causing my new panic attacks, yet.
After someone with panic sees both the cardiologist and the neurologist and finds no answers, or at least no reasons why the palpitations and the dizziness should be cause for alarm, two things can happen:
1) The person almost instantly feels better, and in many cases, the panic either disappears or it is much better tolerated. I’ve seen this happen more with people having panic attacks for the first time.
2) If the person is more of a veteran of panic (me!), he/she needs to delve deeper before finding any kind of relief.
It is very common to read stories about people with panic that have seen many doctors. And it is just as common reading that these doctors had found nothing wrong with them, which is very frustrating for someone carrying around a mile-long list of new symptoms that have appeared with/after the panic attacks.
Depending on this list, then we go on to the next doctor, and the next. And we get second opinions when we just can’t believe the first one that found us healthy.
The type of doctor someone with panic attacks might go to next depends on the symptom that is most bothering him:
Stomach upset and bathroom issues will send you to a Gastroenterologist.
Any difficulty with breathing will need a Pulmonologist (lungs) opinion.
A lump in the throat can only be checked by an ENT (ear nose throat) doctor.
All those vision troubles will need a visit to the Ophtalmologist.
And when all those symptoms have been checked and no issues found, then only the brave keep on going, trying to blame their sickness on some obscure disease:
Maybe the thyroid is not working, better see an Endocrinologist.
What if I have endometriosis? The Ob/Gyn should be able to evaluate the possibility.
What if I’m deficient in some vitamins? Then I’ll go see a Nutritionist.
What if I have a chemical sensitivity? There is such a thing as an Environmental doctor, you know?
The sky is the limit.
It’s up to the individual to go as far as he needs to in order to find peace and, hopefully, some answers. I believe that if we are able to explain most, if not all, of our symptoms, then panic management becomes easier, and its defeat a possibility.