Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder manifested by recurrent unexpected episodes of panic attacks. These are different from the normal fear and anxiety reactions to stressful events. Panic disorder is a serious condition that strikes without reason or warning.

During a panic attack, the fear response is out of proportion for the situation, which often is not threatening. Over time, a person with panic disorder develops a constant fear of having another panic attack, which can affect daily functioning and general quality of life. They may even avoid places and situations where an attack has occurred or where they believe an attack may occur.

Panic disorder often occurs along with other serious conditions, such as depression, alcoholism, or drug abuse.
 

Symptoms

Symptoms of panic disorder include sudden attacks of fear and nervousness, as well as physical symptoms such as sweating and a racing heart.  These symptoms which usually come on quickly and last about 10 minutes, also include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pounding heart or chest pain
  • Intense feeling of dread
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sensation of choking or smothering
  • Dizziness or feeling faint
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or stomachache
  • Tingling or numbness in the fingers and toes
  • Chills or hot flashes
  • A fear that you are losing control or are about to die

What Causes Panic Disorder?

Although the exact cause of panic disorder is not fully understood, studies have shown that a combination of factors, including biological and environmental, may be involved. These factors include.

  • Family history. Panic disorder has been shown to sometimes run in families.
  • Abnormalities in the brain. Panic disorder may be caused by problems in regulating brain areas that control the "fight or flight" response.
  • Substance abuse. Abuse of drugs and alcohol can contribute to panic disorder.
  • Major life stress. Stressful events and major life transitions, such as the death of a loved one, can sometimes trigger panic attacks, which can potentially recur and go on to become panic disorder.

How Is Panic Disorder Treated?

A combination of the following therapies is often used to treat panic disorder.

  • Psychotherapy
    Counselling is a process in which trained mental health professionals talk through strategies for understanding and dealing with the disorder.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
    A type of psychotherapy that helps a person learn to recognize and change thought patterns and behaviours that lead to troublesome feelings. Therapy also aims to identify possibly triggers for panic attacks.
  • Medication
  • Relaxation Techniques

* Adapted from various internet sources including WebMD, PsychCentral and CMHA