What is a Panic Disorder?

  • A panic attack is when an individual experiences an episode of sudden overwhelming fear that occurs with no apparent causes.
  • Panic attacks are the core feature of panic disorders.
  • People suffering from a panic disorder experience occasional panic attacks and live in constant fear of experiencing one in the future. This fear may can make lead to social isolation and avoid of certain places so that they prevent a panic attack from occurring.

What Causes Panic Disorders?

Panic disorders usually appears during adolescents or early adulthood; however the precise causes behind it are unknown. There are certain factors that have been found to be connected to panic disorders. These factors include:
  • Heritability plays a role in panic disorder. Some individuals suffering from the disorder have reported having a family member with either panic disorder or another emotional disorder.
  • A biological malfunction may also cause a panic disorder, although the specific biological indicator has yet to be found.
  • Environmental factors can also be involved. Major life transitions that are stressful can trigger panic attacks, if the panic attacks recurs it becomes a panic disorder.
  • Certain substances such as caffeine, alcohol and medication can also trigger a panic attack; however, panic attacks much be recurrent to be diagnosed as a panic disorder.

What are the risk factors?

Certain risk factors can increase the risk of getting a panic disorder. These risk factors are:
  • Having a family member that suffers from panic disorder
  • Experiencing major stress in one’s life
  • Experiencing a traumatic event
  • Major life transitions
  • Excessive caffeine intake or smoking
  • Having a history of childhood abuse, either sexual or physical

What are the common symptoms of panic disorders?

Panic attacks occur suddenly and in non-threatening situations. There is no way to stop it from occurring and it passes after a few minutes since the body cannot handle the “flight or fight” response for longer than that. Symptoms of panic attack include:
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Paralyzing terror
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Feeling nauseous
  • Trembling, sweating, or shaking
  • Chest pains
  • Hot flashes or sudden chills
  • Tingling or numbness in fingers or toes
  • Fear that you're going crazy or are about to die
  • Feeling of being unreality or being detached to oneself

How is the diagnosis for panic disorder made?

  • Experiencing a panic attack does not mean that you suffer from a panic disorder; however, if you have the symptoms of a panic disorder you should consult your doctor.
  • Your doctor will perform a physical examination and will also review your family history. If there are no physical signs that seem to cause the disorder, he/she will refer you to a psychologist, psychiatrist, or a mental health provider.
  • The psychologist or psychiatrist will use interviews and assessment tools specifically made to evaluate a person for panic disorder.

Is there treatment for panic disorder?

Treatment for panic disorder includes psychotherapy and medication, or a combination of both. Support groups can also be beneficial to some people suffering from this disorder.
  • Psychotherapy
    • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has two parts to it, the cognitive part and the behavioral part.
    • Cognitive therapy helps the person identify the likely triggers for the attack such as a thought or a situation or even a slight change in their heartbeat. Understanding that the panic attack and the trigger are not dependent, the trigger starts to lose some of its power to induce an attack.
    • The behavioral part of CBT consists of something called exposure. Which recreates the symptoms of a panic attack in a controlled setting, helping the person realize that the experience symptoms can be managed without them experiencing a panic attack.
  • Medication
    • o Prescribed medication for this disorder include antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication; however, it is the most effective when used in an overall treatment plan.

Can panic disorder be prevented?

Panic disorder cannot be prevented; however, certain measures can be taken to reduce stress and decrease the symptoms. These measure include:
  • Seeking treatment and following recommended treatment plan
  • Being mindful of daily stressors that are especially triggering
  • Living a healthy lifestyle
  • Reducing caffeine intake

What happens if panic disorder is left untreated?

If individuals do not receive treatment for their panic disorder, there can be serious consequences:
  • A person’s quality of life can be impaired. Persona may discontinue many of their activities because of fear of getting a panic attack.
  • Untreated panic disorders may be associated with agoraphobia, which is a fear of being in places and getting a panic attack. This fear causes persons to avoid public places, even in some cases not leaving the house.
  • Other symptoms may be associated with untreated panic disorder, including depression, and even suicidal ideation.