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Gillian McKeith has stolen the show on this year’s I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here. Apparently terrified of everything in the jungle, she has suffered frequent anxiety attacks, fainted, and some people have even questioned why she volunteered for the show in the first place. Now The Hour’s health expert, Dr Debbie Wake, exposes the myths behind panic attacks with the help of long-term sufferer Lynnette McCutcheon.
Lynnette first began to suffer panic attacks six and a half years ago when she choked on a fish bone and had to have it removed in hospital. Increasingly worried about swallowing anything, she developed a phobia and quickly lost five stone. As the anxiety built up, she stopped leaving the house at all.
She told The Hour about her first attack: “Basically I was on the bus with my children. I had to get off the bus as soon as possible, rushed home, and my whole life went down the hill after that. I had no idea what it was at all, I’d never suffered anything like that but I was just so scared I thought I was going to die.”
Dr Debbie explained that panic attacks will affect around one in 75 people during their lifetime, but that the milder form – anxiety attacks – will affect about one in five. Suffering an attack like this is very different from the anxiety that most people feel every now and again.
She said: “When it gets to an extreme level where it takes over your life and you start to develop symptoms associated with it, that’s when we would diagnose that disorder.
“Panic attacks themselves are relatively uncommon and the sorts of symptoms people get associated with them are an overwhelming fear that comes on very suddenly. Often the heart's racing accompanied by flushing, nausea and sweating, and people describe in worse scenarios that they feel like they’re about to die.
“Some people get chest pain with it, and often we see people presenting to the hospital thinking they’re having a heart attack. When somebody is having a true, real panic attack it’s an incredibly frightening thing.”
Thanks to medication, Lynnette has now been able to control her attacks and rebuild her life: “I’ve had to relearn how to leave the house just to go to the local corner shop. Now I’ve got my life back under control. I’m working voluntary now, I’m at college, I’ve got my kids swimming and I’m swimming as well, it’s just fantastic.
“My whole life is back to normal but I do want to let people out there know just how bad [panic attacks] are. At the time you don’t think you’re going to get over it, but you will.”
For help coping with panic attacks, visit See Me Scotland, Anxiety UK or consult your GP.