What is panic disorder?
Panic disorder occurs
when you experience recurring unexpected panic attacks. The DSM-5 defines panic
attacks as abrupt surges of intense fear or discomfort that peak within
minutes. People with the disorder live in fear of having a panic attack. You may
be having a panic attack when
you feel sudden, overwhelming terror that has no obvious cause. You may
experience physical symptoms, such as a racing heart, breathing difficulties,
experience a panic attack once or twice in their lives. The American Psychological
reports that 1 out of every 75 people might experience a panic disorder. Panic disorder is characterized
by persistent fear of having another panic attack after you have experienced at
least one month (or more) of persistent concern or worry about additional panic
attacks (or their consequences) recurring.
the symptoms of this disorder can be quite overwhelming and frightening, they
can be managed and improved with treatment. Seeking treatment is the most
important part of reducing symptoms and improving your quality of life.
What are the symptoms of
panic disorder often begin to appear in teens and young adults under the age of
25. If you have had four or more panic attacks, or you live in fear of having
another panic attack after experiencing one, you may have a panic disorder.
attacks produce intense fear that begins suddenly, often with no warning. An
attack typically lasts for 10 to 20 minutes, but in extreme cases, symptoms may
last for more than an hour. The experience is different for everyone, and
symptoms often vary.
symptoms associated with a panic attack include:
heartbeat or palpitations
like you are choking
in mental state, including a feeling of derealization (feeling of unreality) or
depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
or tingling in your hands or feet
pain or tightness
that you might die
of a panic attack often occur for no clear reason. Typically, the symptoms are
not proportionate to the level of danger that exists in the environment.
Because these attacks can’t be predicted, they can significantly affect your
Fear of a
panic attack or recalling a panic attack can result in another attack.
What a panic attack feels like
Hear from real people who have experienced a panic attack.
What causes panic disorder?
of panic disorder are not clearly understood. Research has shown that panic
disorder may be genetically linked. Panic disorder is also associated with
significant transitions that occur in life. Leaving for college, getting
married, or having your first child are all major life transitions that may
create stress and lead to the development of panic disorder.
Who is at risk for
developing panic disorder?
causes of panic disorder are not clearly understood, information about the
disease does indicate that certain groups are more likely to develop the
disorder. In particular, women are twice as likely as men to develop the
condition, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
How is panic disorder
experience symptoms of a panic attack, you may seek emergency medical care.
Most people who experience a panic attack for the first time believe that they
are having a heart attack.
While at the
emergency department, the emergency provider will perform several tests to see
if your symptoms are caused by a heart attack. They may run blood tests to rule
out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms, or an electrocardiogram
(ECG) to check heart function. If there is no emergency basis to your symptoms,
you will be referred back to your primary care provider.
care provider may perform a mental health examination and ask you about your
symptoms. All other medical disorders will be ruled out before your primary
care provider makes a diagnosis of panic disorder.
How is panic disorder treated?
for panic disorder focuses on reducing or eliminating your symptoms. This is
achieved through therapy with a qualified professional and in some cases, medication.
Therapy typically involves cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This therapy
teaches you to change your thoughts and actions so that you can understand your
attacks and manage your fear.
used to treat panic disorder can include selective serotonin reuptake
inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of antidepressant. SSRIs prescribed for panic
disorder may include:
medications sometimes used to treat panic disorder include:
reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), another class of antidepressant
(commonly used as tranquilizers), including diazepam or clonazepam
oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), another type of antidepressant that is used
infrequently because of rare but serious side effects
to these treatments, there are a number of steps that you can take at home to
reduce your symptoms. Examples include:
a regular schedule
on a regular basis
the use of stimulants such as caffeine
What is the long-term outlook?
disorder is often a chronic (long-term) condition that can be difficult to
treat. Some people with this disorder do not respond well to treatment. Others
may have periods when they have no symptoms and periods when their symptoms are
quite intense. Most people with panic disorder will experience some symptom
relief through treatment.
How can panic disorder be
It may not
be possible to prevent panic disorder. However, you can work to reduce your
symptoms by avoiding alcohol and stimulants such as caffeine as well as illicit
drugs. It is also helpful to notice if you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety
following a distressing life event. If you are bothered by something that you
experienced or were exposed to, discuss the situation with your primary care