Panic attacks. They can strike anyone at any time, and they are no laughing matter. Experts say three to four million Americans suffer from panic attacks. They come without warning.
Jim Wilson is a licensed psychiatrist with the Phobia and Anxiety Center of the Southwest, Dallas, TX.
"If someone is driving on the freeway and suddenly this happens and they feel like they are about to lose control of the car, pass out because they are light headed or having a heart attack because their heart is pounding."
Brad Westlake suffered his first panic attack at school.
"I lost my breath. I thought I was having an asthma attack or a heart attack. I didn't know what was going to happen. Something was wrong with me. I didn't know if I was going to die."
The attacks got worse. He stayed away from school, afraid of more embarrassment. He even tried to kill himself.
"I thought, if they're going to take me to school, I'm going to die, so I better do it myself."
Brad isn't alone. Millions of Americans have panic attacks and don't understand what's happening.
"This thing was bigger than me. I couldn't control it. It was out of control. It was out of my hands."
The good news is that there's help.
"It's the area where we have the highest success rate of all of the anxiety disorders, upwards of 90 percent," Wilson said.
"I can't imagine anything worse than this. It's horrible and if I can beat it, I can do anything I want to in life," Westlake said.
Brad knows he hasn't licked it yet. But he's making progress.
Exposure therapy is the most common treatment for anxiety disorders. But researchers are testing new drugs to help control the disorder.
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