What is Panic Disorder?

Panic Disorder is characterized as recurrent panic attacks which are sudden intense episodes of fear which triggers physiological reactions without a clearly identifiable cause. Panic attacks are generally very frightening and cause significant distress. A panic attack can cause the feeling of losing control or having a heart attack or even dying. They frequently cause people to bring themselves to the ER due to that fear, only to fine out that medically they are fine. Panic attacks are diagnosed as panic disorder when they are recurrent and are joined by the fear or anxiety that another panic attack will occur. Most people will have some experience with a panic attack but it is quick to end and they are quick to return to normal functioning; however, a person with panic disorder will feel fatigued after an attack and eventually that fear of future panic attacks can lead to other mental health issues due to avoidance, such as agoraphobia.

Symptoms of a Panic Attack:

  • Sudden sense of impending doom or danger
  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of death
  • Rapid, pounding heart beat
  • Sweating
  • Hyperventilating or shortness of breath
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Chills or hot flashes
  • Nausea
  • Chest Pain
  • Headache
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Detached feeling

What causes Panic Disorder?

Panic attacks can be triggered by intense stress or life changes, medical problems, or any stimulation that triggers the body’s fight or flight response. Genetics, a temperament that is more sensitive to stress or negative emotions, or changes in brain functioning can also cause panic disorder. More women are effected by panic disorder than men and symptoms generally start in adolescence or early adulthood. Trauma can also trigger the start of panic attacks.

Treatment:

The initial goal of treatment is to reduce the severity and frequency of panic attacks. As well as reducing the anxiety and fear of having future panic attacks. Psychotherapy and medication can work towards these results, but in most cases psychotherapy is tried alone first. Therapy can help educate and understand panic attacks and panic disorder. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT is most commonly used and helps teach thinking techniques that can be used by examining daily events and personal experiences with panic. Mindfulness and relaxation are also useful tools in the treatment of panic disorder. The physical symptom of panic attacks are treated first, and once the fear of those is reduced the anxiety about having panic attacks begins to resolve.

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