Panic Disorder: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Overview

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder where a person experiences a spontaneous and unexpected occurrence of panic attacks. The panic attacks may occur anywhere at any time, even while one is sleeping.

Although such attacks can occur in other anxiety disorders, these attacks often occur without a discernible, predictable precipitant in panic disorder.

The prevalence of the panic disorder is approximately 1.5% to 4% of the general population. It occurs most frequently in the late 20-30 age bracket. With the presence of agoraphobia, panic attacks are twice as common in women than in men. In the absence of agoraphobia, males and females are affected equally.

Causes

It’s not known what causes panic attacks or panic disorder, but these factors may play a role:

  • Genetics

Research has shown that panic disorder may be genetically linked, but researchers are not sure how much genetics is influencing the formation of panic disorder.

  • Biology

People with panic disorder may have brains that are especially sensitive in responding to fear or prone to negative emotions.

  • Life changes

Panic disorder is also associated with significant transitions that occur in life. Leaving for college, getting married, or having your first child are all major life transitions.

Symptoms

Panic attacks have many variations, but symptoms usually peak within minutes. You may feel fatigued and worn out after a panic attack subsides. To receive a diagnosis of panic disorder, the panic attacks must be unexpected. During the attack, four or more of the above symptoms must occur.

Based on panic disorder DSM-5 criteria, the symptoms of panic attacks can be divided into physical and psychological ones.

Physical

  • Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feelings of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint
  • Chills or heat sensations
  • Numbing or tingling sensations (commonly referred to as “pins and needles”)

Psychological

  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  • Fear of dying
  • A sense of being detached from yourself or your surroundings, or observing yourself from outside your body

Diagnosis

To help pinpoint a diagnosis, you may have:

  • A complete physical exam
  • Blood tests
  • A psychological self-assessment or questionnaire
  • An inquiry asking about alcohol or other substance use

Treatment

There are a few types of treatment suitable for panic disorder.

  • Psychotherapy

These include relaxation therapy, behavior therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. When being treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, individuals work with therapists to notice their negative thought patterns and identify ways to deal with them.

  • Medications

Medications such as sedatives (most commonly diazepam), and anti-depressant (most commonly fluoxetine and sertraline are recommended.

In addition to these treatments, there are several steps that patients can take at home to reduce symptoms. Examples include:

  • Maintaining a regular schedule
  • Exercising on a regular basis
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Avoiding the use of stimulants such as caffeine

Keywords: behavioral disorders.

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.