Interviewer: It's another edition of "ER or Not" with Dr. Troy Madsen. All right, go ahead and play along, and see if you can figure out the answer to today's situation. Dr. Madsen, today's "ER or Not" a panic attack. Is that a reason to go to the ER or not?
Dr. Madsen: That's a tough one, because I think, for some people they absolutely feel they need to go to the ER, and typically, what's going to happen is, in the ER, is you might get some medication to help calm you down, give you a little bit of time to relax, but it's probably not something you absolutely need to go to the ER for. If you've had a history of anxiety before, you may have some medication at home you could take that can kind of help calm you down. You know, take 30, 45 minutes before you make that decision to go to the ER.
Of course, the big reason to go to the ER would be if you're having other issues, as well. Let's say you're having thoughts of hurting yourself, you know, any thoughts about suicide, absolutely you need to get to the ER. And that would be the biggest thing I'd say. You know, when someone comes in saying, "I'm just feeling really anxious," they're hyperventilating, that's my first question. "Well, are you having thoughts about suicide, any attempts, anything like that, that we need to be worried about?"
Interviewer: But the panic attack itself and the hyperventilation, that's not a breathing issue, generally?
Dr. Madsen: Well, that's a great question, and I think there are kind of two things here. There may be a person who's had panic attacks before, they've been diagnosed with anxiety, they're familiar with this feeling. If you're in that situation, you may have medication, you may know how to kind of control things at home. Maybe you've tried some deep breathing, things to calm yourself down.
Now, on the other hand, if, just out of the blue, you've never experienced this and you suddenly start to feel extremely anxious, you're hyperventilating, you know, you may think to yourself, "Well, maybe this is just a panic attack," but something like a blood clot in the lungs can cause a person to feel very anxious, very short of breath. It gives you that feeling like you're going to die, something that a person with a panic attack might feel. So you've got to be careful there, and if that's something you haven't experienced before, then absolutely, I would say you need to get to the ER.
updated: May 6, 2020
originally published: September 29, 2017
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