Panic disorder is a serious condition that is twice as common in women as men and often appears in late adolescence or early adulthood. This disorder is characterized by a fear of repeated panic attacks; a sudden attack of intense fear that develops suddenly for no apparent reason.
Panic attacks were once dismissed as simply nerves or stress, but it is now recognized as a real medical condition. Severe and terrifying physical reactions are triggered during an episode that makes one feel as though they are losing control, having a heart attack or even dying. Panic attacks can occur at any time, even during sleep. This unpredictability of these attacks can cause intense worrying about when the next attack might occur. Once one begins to have a persistent fear of having panic attacks, panic disorder has developed.
Symptoms of Panic Disorder
These episodes are characterized by heart pounding, sweating, dizzy feelings and faintness. During these attacks, a person may feel flushed or chilled; numb or tingly; have difficulty breathing, and experience chest pain or nausea. A feeling of detachment or sense of unreality is commonly experienced during these attacks, along with a fear of losing control or of impending doom.
Symptoms of a Panic Attack
• Racing heartbeat
• Difficulty breathing
• An almost paralyzing terror
• Dizziness, lightheadedness or nausea
• Trembling, sweating
• Choking, chest pains
• Hot flashes, or sudden chills
• Tingling in fingers or toes (‘pins and needles’)
• Fear of losing control, impending doom or that you are dying
Causes of Panic Disorder
An estimated one to two percent of people will experience panic disorder at some time in their life. It is believed that a genetic predisposition may be involved as many people have reported family members with this disorder or another emotional disorder such as depression. If a biological parent or sibling has had panic disorder, your risk is increased up to eight times more.
Stressful life events, such as a recent loss or separation, can trigger panic disorders. Such stresses can lower one’s resistance, allowing the underlying physical predisposition to trigger an attack.
Treatment of Panic Attacks
Early treatment can often prevent agoraphobia, but people with panic disorder may sometimes go from doctor to doctor for years and visit the emergency room repeatedly before someone correctly diagnoses their condition. Panic disorder is one of the most treatable of all the anxiety disorders, and is usually treated with medication or cognitive psychotherapy to assist in reducing or eliminating thinking patterns that may promote anxiety.
Panic disorder is often accompanied by other serious problems, such as depression, drug abuse, or alcoholism, all of which need to be treated separately.
It is possible to have only one or two panic attacks in one’s lifetime, however frequent panic attacks indicate the possibility of panic disorder. Panic disorder can significantly affect one’s quality of life. Treatment usually includes medication, psychotherapy and relaxation techniques to help prevent or control panic attacks.
Without treatment, panic disorder can be debilitating and have very serious consequences. If untreated, this disorder can often lead to various phobias and can severely damage one’s quality of life. Panic disorder is highly treatable, with a variety of available therapies.