Q: Although I am only 25, two episodes during the last month convinced me I was having a heart attack. Each started suddenly with shortness of breath and dizziness; heart palpitations, chest pain and sweating soon followed. During the last attack I went to an emergency room where the doctors assured me it was not a heart attack but did not tell me what was wrong. Can you explain these episodes?
A: It is hard to be certain, but it sounds as though you are having panic attacks. Your symptoms are typical of such attacks, and they generally begin before the age of 30.
Attacks are characterized by 5 to 30 minutes of intense dread along with a number of physical symptoms, some of which do mimic a heart attack: difficulty breathing, a pounding, rapid heart beat, chest pain, a choking sensation, sweating, headache, dizziness, blurred vision, nausea and numbness or tingling of the hands and feet. During an attack victims often are afraid they will faint or even die.