Panic disorder is a type of
characterized by recurrent and unpredictable bursts of terror known as panic attacks. A panic attack is accompanied by physical symptoms that may feel similar to a
or other life-threatening condition.
Intense anxiety often develops between episodes of panic. As panic attacks become more frequent, people begin avoiding situations that could trigger them. Panic attacks can lead to
agoraphobia. This is a fear of being trapped in places or situations where escape could be difficult or impossible.
Panic disorder is likely to be an interaction of: GeneticsChanges in brain function or metabolismPsychosocial stressors that combine to influence the brain's fear networks
Panic disorder is almost twice as common in women than in men. Other factors that may increase your chance of panic disorder include: Family history of anxietyPoor coping skillsHistory of physical or sexual abuseStressful life eventsIncreased sensitivity to physical sensationsHistory of another anxiety disorder or anxious temperamentCigarette smoking during adolescence and young adulthood
Panic attacks usually occur unexpectedly and repeatedly. Panic attack symptoms may include: Sudden and intense episodes of fearRacing, pounding, or skipping heartbeatChest pain, pressure, or discomfortDifficulty breathingChoking sensation or lump in the throatExcessive sweatingLightheadednessNauseaTingling or numbness in parts of the bodyChills or hot flashesShaking or tremblingFeelings of unreality or being detached from the bodyAn urge to fleeFear of impending doom, such as death, a heart attack, suffocation, loss of control, or embarrassmentStomach pain
Symptoms of Anxiety
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You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will also be done. The diagnosis can be made if you have had a panic attack with at least 4 of the symptoms listed above and persistent worries about the attack for more than 1 month.
Tell your doctor about your physical symptoms and how the symptoms make you feel. Your doctor will want to know if the panic attacks interfere with your normal activities. You should also tell your doctor if you: Have been feeling sad or hopeless
drinking in excess
to control symptoms
The goal of treatment is to decrease the frequency and intensity of panic attacks. Studies support a combination of treatment methods to achieve success. Talk to your doctor about the best treatment plan for you.
Education helps people to better understand what panic disorder is and how it can be treated. It focuses on the concepts that symptoms are not life-threatening and are common. It also helps the person to understand the course of treatment and develop realistic goals for overcoming the disorder. People who undergo treatment have an improved quality of life.
In some people, learning about panic disorder is enough to help relieve symptoms.
(CBT) can prepare you for situations that may trigger panic attacks. Therapy focuses on:
Learning how to recognize what causes your fearsGradually forming healthier thinking patternsDoing breathing exercises to increase relaxationReducing fear and feelings of terror
Your doctor may recommend: Antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), or tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) Benzodiazepines—may cause dependence
Some people find that avoiding
may help reduce panic attacks.
Caffeine is found in many products, like coffee, tea, chocolate, and soft drinks.
To help reduce your chance of panic disorder: Avoid drinks that contain caffeine.Avoid abusing alcohol and drugs.Get plenty of rest.Schedule a regular quiet time for yourself at home.Participate in regular exercise—aim for at least 30 minutes per day most days of the week.
Answers to your questions about panic disorder. American Psychological Association website. Available at:
http://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety/panic-disorder.aspx. Accessed January 26, 2016.
Antidepressant use in children, adolescents, and adults. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at:
Updated December 23, 2014. Accessed January 26, 2016.
Panic disorder and agoraphobia. Anxiety and Depression Association of America website. Available at:
http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/panic-disorder-agoraphobia. Accessed January 26, 2016.
Last reviewed December 2015 by Adrian Preda, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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