Why do some people have panic attacks?
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Sweating, nausea, chest pain and shortness of breath sound like the physical symptoms of a heart attack. For about 4% of the world’s population, they are also symptoms of an underdiagnosed condition that can leave sufferers curled in a ball and screaming on the floor. A CrowdScience listener wants to know why humans have panic attacks. Host Marnie Chesterton brings on board an expert co-presenter, novelist Tim Clare, to talk us through the hows and whys. Tim suffered from crippling panic attacks for over a decade. He decided enough was enough and has combed through the scientific literature, using himself as a guinea pig, to see what helped. Anxiety can be a useful sensation, helping you to detect and avoid dangers before they happen. But when that morphs into debilitatingly unpleasant symptoms, or an internal monologue saying “that’ll go badly, best to not leave the house,” something has gone wrong. Together, Tim and Marnie explore what’s going on in the brains of those whose threat circuit is faulty. Dr Oliva Remes, a mental health researcher at the University of Cambridge explains how common panic attacks are, and how they often present. Dr Bonnie Furzer at the University of Western Australia explains how exercise can help. Tim takes a dip to demonstrate how cold water, and the cold shock response can help. Dr Rebecca Taugher at the University of Iowa explains how scientists induce a panic attack in the lab, how she has been a guinea pig and why patient SM, without an amygdala, the brain’s so-called ‘fear-centre,’ could still be given a panic attack in the lab, just by inhaling extra amounts of carbon dioxide. Professor Alexander Shackman from the University of Maryland points out that the science will come so much further when researchers look at a genuine cross-section of the population, rather than focussing on those in educational establishments (easier to study) who often don’t experience panic attacks. PHOTO CREDIT: Woman hyperventilating into paperbag Credit: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images
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