There is no such thing as a “wasted” visit to the emergency room for an anxiety attack. For someone who may be experiencing anxiety, or their first panic attack, a visit to the emergency room is warranted to make sure that the cause of the person’s distress is not a heart attack, asthma/breathing problem, thyroid or hormone emergency, or other dangerous medical condition such as irregular / fast heartbeat, blood clot in the lungs or anxiety arising from a neurological disorder, medication reaction or elevated blood pressure.
Almost anyone experiencing symptoms of anxiety or a panic attack requires evaluation. Unless the individual has a history with panic attacks, is generally healthy, and is experiencing a typical attack, they must be evaluated promptly by a doctor. Its best to be on the safe side and go to an emergency room like ER Katy where the doctors have the necessary equipment and experience to appropriately evaluate for a potentially underlying dangerous emergency medical condition.
Even for doctors who are board certified in emergency room medicine, the diagnosis of a panic attack is known as a diagnosis of exclusion. This means that before the doctor can be sure of a panic attack based diagnosis, all other possible causes of the symptoms and other possible conditions need to be considered first.
Anxiety can mimic many harmful conditions. A good doctor must “think of the worst” to be sure not to miss other conditions with a potentially more serious outcome. With doctors who are board certified in emergency medical treatment, patients can expect the best diagnosis including a thorough history check and a thorough physical examination for potentially life threatening conditions.
- Specifically, the doctor will be concerned with the patient’s prior medical history, past history of any mental illness or related medications, and any surgery the person may have had. In addition, the doctor will explore whether the anxiety or panic attack sufferer has a specific anxiety disorder in addition to or instead of panic disorder, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias or generalized anxiety disorder.
- The doctor will consider any medications the person is taking or has recently taken and in what dosage.
- The doctor will inquire about any specific life stressors the patient may be experiencing.
- A determination whether panic or anxiety illnesses “run in the family” and about any recent use of alcohol or other drugs . It is important to be honest during the evaluation about drug or alcohol habits because both are critical diagnosis factors.
- Caffeine intake will be assessed.
- The doctor should inquire about any herbal or over-the-counter medicines taken.
- A physical exam should include a head-to-toe check of all the vital organ systems. The doctor will monitor the heart and lungs and perform a brief neurologic exam to help insure the brain is functioning properly.
- The emergency medicine doctor will use their best judgment regarding the necessity of ordering additional on-site tests. Given the nature of the symptoms associated with acute anxiety or a panic attack, the patient will usually receive an ECG or heart tracing test.
- Should the emergency medicine doctor be concerned that the symptoms could be caused by a medical disorder, blood tests, urine tests, drug screens, and even X-rays or CT scans may be performed with on-site equipment.
- If the person has a family history of seizures or symptoms that are not typical for panic attack, a neurologist may be asked to evaluate the person. There is some overlap between the symptoms of panic attack and what are known as “partial seizures.” Distinguishing between the two is important because the treatment for each is quite different. A neurologist, if consulted, will order an EEG (electroencephalogram) to check for seizure activity in the brain. This is a painless test but does require some time to complete (typically overnight).
In summary, anxiety can be a lot more than just worry about a particular event. It can range from stroke to heart attack to blood clot in lungs to medication reaction. In either case it is important to be checked out by a board certified ER doctor at a place like ER Katy that has the specialized equipment onsite to expedite comprehensive diagnosis and care.
ER Katy is committed to providing the highest quality of care to our patients. All doctors on ER Katy’s staff are Board Certified in Emergency Medicine and are ready to treat patients 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
ER Katy is conveniently located at I-10 and Pin Oak, near HEB.