Panic & Medical Care – Earl Campbell Part 2

Posted On September 3, 2019

In my last blog, I shared a compelling account from NFL great Earl Campbell as he described his first panic attack1. Today, I’ll share more of Earl’s personal story. This time, he describes an all-too-common experience: the fruitless and frantic search for a medical explanation for his frightening symptoms:

“I had interns come in to see me every day. Every day they would give me a new test. They never explained what they were doing … I didn’t like it, and I still don’t think it’s right. I didn’t sign up to become a test patient. I entered that hospital because I thought I was having a heart attack and needed help.”

What Earl experienced is a common phenomenon – doctors who don’t recognize that physical symptoms can be a manifestation of a panic attack, so they order multiple tests seeking a medical diagnosis. One published study found that people with panic disorder averaged 9 specialist doctor visits in the year before their panic was accurately diagnosed2.  Of course, it’s critical that certain medical diagnoses be ruled out when panic sufferers visit the emergency room, especially when symptoms include chest pain. But all too often, panic sufferers endure a frustrating journey that includes multiple doctor visits and expensive tests before the panic attack is accurately diagnosed.

And the longer it takes for that to happen, the more fear and avoidance take over. More from Earl:

“Until I learned what was wrong with me, the only place I could go was to a doctor’s office or a hospital.  I was shutting myself off from the world. I was going to sleep very late, waking up at noon, and spending the day in bed.”

Earl’s intense physiological distress, which had not been diminished by countless visits to the hospital or physician’s office, drove him to retreat from the world in fear of when his next panic attack would occur.

Eventually, Earl and his doctors realized that his experiences were panic-related and not a  cardiac or neurological illness, and he sought mental health treatment that helped.

We are lucky that a well-known person like Earl went public with his story.  If it resonates with you, let us know.


  1. Earl Campbell & John Ruane, The Earl Campbell Story: A Football Great’s Battle with Panic Disorder, ECW Press, 1999.
  2. Deacon B, Lickel J, Abramowitz JS. Medical utilization across the anxiety disorders. Journal of Anxiety Disorders. 2008; 22: 344-350.


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