Panic Attack or Seizure???

I haven't posted for quite awhile as things have been relatively calm, but I have checked in here and there to see how everyone is doing.

I had a scary situation last night with my easy child and need some opinions. She is going through b/f trouble, so her stress level has been extremely high the past 48 hours. She woke me up at 1:30 am this morning not being able to breathe. She was hyperventalating and gasping for air. At first, I thought she was just upset and I tried to calm her down and get her to breathe slowly - - took her outside to get fresh air - - had her breathe in a paper bag (which she couldn't do). After about 10 minutes of this, I started getting nervous that something else was wrong, so I woke up husband. In his stern "dad" voice, he tried to get her to look in his eyes and tell him what had happened (did you speak to b/f, did he upset you, yadayada). She couldn't talk or respond. Her breathing was all over the place, her blood pressure was elevated and her pulse was well over 100. Her left arm was limp, but she would squeeze my hand when I grabbed it. Her right hand shaked like she had Parkinson's, but it was only her hand.

This went on for approx. 25 minutes, until she finally started to fall asleep sitting up. I moved her to her bed and sat with her. Her breathing had relaxed and she slowly started talking to me. The first thing she said was "I was so scared - - I could her you and dad talking to me, but I couldn't speak". She then went on to tell me about things that had happened before her breathing went haywire (b/f talks, etc). She remembered everything, including that I took her blood pressure during this and things we said to her, so she was coherent, yet couldn't respond verbally.

Has anyone ever experienced anything like this? It was terrifying to watch, and I'm sure she was super terrified when it happened. She has asked me over the past couple of weeks if she could see someone, because she is depressed. If we go that route and the above is determined to be a panic attack, I would like to get her on an SSRI that works for panic/anxiety (I believe those are Paxil or Zoloft, but not sure).

Does anyone have any thoughts about this?? I'm not sure what to do next. Thank you.


How frightening! I would recommend immediately calling your easy child's primary care physician and explaining exactly what happened last night. I do think you need to rule out physical causes before you jump to the conclusion that it is emotional (although it could end up that way). Some medications (like SSRIs) could make an underlying disorder like seizures worse. So you need to know what's what before jumping to medicate.

Sending many positive thoughts your way.


New Member
I agree with smallworld- definately need to rule out physical reasons first before going the emotional route.

How scary! Sending lots of positive thoughts and gentle hugs your way!

Sara PA

New Member
Based on what you describe, partcularly the falling asleep part, I'm thinking there is a good chance it was a seizure. Everything you mentioned could be an indication of a seizure.

However, if it was a temporal lobe seizure, EEGs are only about 50% effective in detecting them.

Emotional upsets can be triggers for seizure activity.


Well-Known Member
Another vote for calling her primary doctor and getting her in for a checkup. I would want to rule out the physical. But, at the same time, I wouldn't want to ignore that she is asking for some help. Perhaps she needs someone to go and talk to before even thinking about medications.



Active Member
I have a sleep condition called Hynogogic Sleep Paralysis, that when I become extremely stressed, rears its ugly head, and has symptoms just like what you described. It is a pretty uncommon disease, however, it has been recorded in the medical books for centuries because of its absolutely terrifying effects on people. I will let you look it up online, if you are curious, and I certainly would want you to see a Dr., but it's symptoms are almost exactly like what you described with your daughter. In a nutshell, it is a misfiring between the sleep brain and the awake brain, and the result is that you are paralyzed, but awake. Often this state is accompanied by terrifying hallucinations, both visual and auditory. I know - it sounds like a horror movie gone bad - but it is a real condition, and possibly genetic, as both my sister and I suffer from it. When I was young they thought I had seizures as well, and then my parents just chalked it up to me "being dramatic". It was not until I was older that I got a proper diagnosis, and realized I was not crazy. If she does have these, the best thing to do is try to get her up and walking, or some water, because that can sometimes break the cycle. Let us know what the doctor says - good luck!.


This community rocks.
Wow, I'm sorry you had to deal with that! I don't have a broad view of the situation, but I can tell you that when my son was having frequent seizures, the primary feeling he had during them was fear. He was usually able to notice and respond to me if I asked him questions, although very, very slowly and quietly. He always got extremely tired immediately afterward.

The one thing that's very different from what you describe is this: While my son reported feeling fear, his face looked blank and his breathing didn't increase. In other words, what he was feeling inside was completely unreadable from an outsider's perspective.

My kid is the only person I've ever seen have seizures, and obviously I'm not a doctor. Just thought you might be interested in hearing his experience in case you find it useful.

Best of luck!
If it was some sort of seizure, how would the doctor know after the fact? And is it normal for a seizure to last almost 30 minutes? I thought they usually lasted a couple of minutes and then the person falls tends to fall asleep.

As for calling the PCP, I wouldn't think that they would be too "up" on neurological stuff, but maybe I'm wrong. Is it better to go to someone who would be able to do the test (i.e., Neurologist) or can a PCP do it? My daughter has no patience for doctor's offices and if we go to her PCP and they just do routine stuff and refer her to someone else, it will be a waste of time (in her eyes). On the other hand, maybe I'm not giving them enough credit - - I just need to know that this isn't a medical emergency, per se, in case it happens again. We came so close to calling an ambulance, but it sounds like if it was a panic attack, there isn't much they can do about it anyway.

It was very scary and I would like to get to the bottom of things quickly (don't we all)!!

Sara PA: I'm glad you saw this, since you know a lot about seizures - - I was hoping you were still around. Have you ever heard of seizures lasting so long (1/2 hour)?


Sequoia said:
I have a sleep condition called Hynogogic Sleep Paralysis, that when I become extremely stressed, rears its ugly head, and has symptoms just like what you described.

Hi Amber,
don't mean to steal this thread, but wanted to ask you about this. I used to have something happen--I would be asleep(napping, not at night) but be convinced that I was awake and events were happening around me such as the doorbell ringing. I could not move, could not get up to answer it. My mom also has this and so did her mom. In fact, her mom would nap and tell the kids to wake her up if she started moaning because she was having this happen. Is this the same thing as you are talking about?

Sara PA

New Member
Oh, sorry, I didn't see your question to me. That comment was about the other condition they were discussing.

My son's emotional seizures have had a regular pattern since I first noticed them when he was a toddler -- if allowed to run their normal course, his last 45 minutes from start to finish (meaning the point at which he falls or almost falls asleep.)

ETA: I should probably add that there are very distinct phases that he goes through within that 45 minutes, including points where he explodes, rages, is quite angry, is very confused about what happened and then returns to "normal" at which point he is very sleepy. The different phases vary in their length during the course of the seizure but the specific phases are pretty consistent in their length from seizure to seizure.


Active Member
JBrain.....the condition you described is exactly what I am refering to. It has varying depths to it, and is most common in naps, like you mentioned. For me, however, it happens at night, and often last for hours as I go in an out of sleep. I mention this as an option to seizures for MomsLittleAngels, only because so many doctors do not address sleep disorders very thoroughly, and often this type of thing is dismissed.


This community rocks.

One question - you say your easy child woke you up. Do you mean she came to you, or was it the noise itself that woke you up? Just curious because if she was alert enough to find you that might mean it wasn't a seizure. (But, then again, my son was often able to run to me right before a seizure, but he couldn't move like that once it was happening.)

Also, regarding the seizure vs. panic attack distinction, my son's PCP first suggested panic attacks as a cause. I think a lot of docs will offer panic attacks as a first explanation. I kind of had to push the issue to get him seen by a neurologist.

Regarding your question about how would a doctor know after the fact, it's possible that if a seizure happened recently then an EEG would show something abnormal. My understanding is that the EEG is more likely to be abnormal if a seizure occurred recently, but might also be abnormal if one hasn't occurred recently. And - here's the annoying thing - it might look totally normal even if the kid has actual seizures. My kid's EEGs have always been normal. Grrrrr - neurology is SUCH an inexact science. In my kid's case I think the fact that he had multiple events which were almost identical to each other was one reason the neuro thought the "episodes" could be seizures.

I don't think a PCP would be a waste of time. You mentioned possible one-sided weakness, right? That's one thing that a PCP could assess for sure in an exam.

Good luck!
Sorry to take so long to respond, but things remain dramatic. The final blowup occurred with easy child and b/f, and they parted ways, so easy child is just beside herself. Lots of talk about not going on with life, taking sleeping pills so she doesn't have to be awake anymore, etc. I finally got her to sleep at 4:00 am this morning and she was back up before 7:00 am. She is super depressed and upset. I was scared for her last night with all of the talk. She had a long term boyfriend before, but she didn't react as bad when they separated (although it was her choice). This current b/f was her best friend and she doesn't know how to go through her daily routine without him (they were inseparable).

I made an appointment for her to see a psychiatrist's nurse practioner today, to put her back on her AD medications that she took a couple of years ago. That will get things rolling until she can see the actual psychiatrist. She was formerly diagnosis with both depression and generalized anxiety disorder, and with her sister's BiPolar (BP), it is no wonder she inherited a predisposition of this stuff.

BestICan - - to answer your question, she was able to walk into my room and whisper through her labored breathing that she couldn't breathe. After that, she didn't speak for about 45 minutes, although the hyperventilation and weird symptoms stopped after about 25-30 minutes.

I will keep you posted on her doctor's visit this afternoon. Thank you for all of your responses. ((((HUGS))))
Took easy child to psychiatrist yesterday afternoon and they prescribed Prozac and sleeping aid (Lunesta) to help her get through things. She also agreed to go to therapy starting this Friday, so that is a positive sign. She is going between sadness, anger & disgust at the whole thing. Sounds like normal processing of a traumatic experience. I hope things settle down soon and she realizes that she doesn't have to be co-dependent on a b/f.

After two days of no sleep (5 hours in two days), Mom finally got about 6 hours last night. Better, but I need to catch up.

Thank you for all of your thoughts.

P.S. The psychiatrist didn't think it was a panic attack, because they usually last only a few minutes, not 1/2 hour. They ordered complete blood panel to make sure that she doesn't have any physiological things going on. We'll see how that goes.