Panic Disorder

Panic attacks can be very frightening, as most individuals feel as if they’re losing control, having a heart attack or even dying. It is normal to suffer a few panic attacks in your lifetime. But individuals who have experienced multiple panic attacks and have spent long periods in constant fear of another attack, may have a chronic condition called panic disorder.

Panic Disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by sudden attacks of terror, usually accompanied by a pounding heart, sweatiness, weakness, faintness, or dizziness. During a panic attack, the fear response is out of proportion for the situation, which often is not threatening. Over time, a person with panic disorder develops a constant fear of having another panic attack, which can affect daily functioning and general quality of life.

Symptoms of Panic Disorder

Symptoms of a panic attack, which often last about 10 minutes, include:

  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Pounding heart or chest pain
  • Intense feeling of terror.
  • Sensation of choking or smothering.
  • Dizziness or feeling faint.
  • Trembling or shaking.
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or stomach
  • Feelings of unreality
  • Fear of dying
  • Tingling or numbness in the fingers and toes.
  • Chills or hot flashes
  • A fear that you are losing control or are about to die.

What Causes Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder occurs twice as often in women than in men and symptoms usually begin before the age of 25. Although the exact cause of panic disorder is not fully understood, studies have shown that a combination of factors, including biological and environmental, may be involved. Studies have shown that genetics, abnormalities in the brain, drug and alcohol abuse, and major life stress may play a role in Panic Disorder.

How is Panic Disorder Diagnosed?

In order to properly diagnose Panic Disorder, a health care provider will perform a physical examination as well as laboratory tests that may include a complete blood count (CBC) as well as thyroid tests and other blood tests. You may also have tests on your heart, such as an electrocardiogram to help determine how well your heart is functioning. All medical disorders must be ruled out before panic disorder can be diagnosed. A psychological evaluation may also be performed where a therapist will ask you about stressful situations in your life, fears or concerns you have, relationship problems and other issues affecting your life. You may fill out psychological self-assessments, questionnaire, and you may be asked about substance or alcohol abuse.

Treatment of Panic Disorder

Treatment can bring significant relief to 70 percent to 90 percent of people with panic disorder, and early treatment can help keep the disease from progressing to the later stages where agoraphobia develops.

A common and effective treatment used to treat Panic Disorder is Cognitive-Behavioral therapy. In this type of therapy, the patient will meet with a therapist for one to three hours a week and discuss their thoughts and feelings that usually accompany the panic attacks. This type of therapy helps to eliminate thought patterns contributing to the patient’s symptoms while aiming to change his or her behavior.

Various medications have also been proven effective in treating Panic Disorder. The anti-depressant drugs Paxil and Zoloft and anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax or Klonopin are often used to treat panic disorders. Sometimes, heart medications (also known as beta blockers) are used to control irregular heartbeats that are often associated with panic attacks.

Review Sources

  • WebMD – this link provided the symptoms associated with panic disorder
  • Mayo Clinic – this link provided information on the diagnosis of panic disorder
  • Psych Central – this link provided information on Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

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