Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. It involves sudden episodes of panic attacks that include feelings of fear even when sometimes there is no real danger. You may feel like you are losing control. Panic attacks also trigger a number of physiological symptoms while it is preparing your body for fight and flight situations.
Panic attacks can be alarming. When they occur the person feels they are losing control and are facing a very threatening situation. The physical symptoms can make a person feel like they are having a heart attack. The majority of people will experience one or two panic attacks in their lifetime. If you are having frequent sudden panic attacks and spend longer periods of time in continuous fear of experiencing another attack, you might have developed Panic Disorder. Panic attacks are not life-threatening but can greatly affect your quality of life.
What causes Panic Disorder
Common Panic Disorder causes include:
- Genetics/Family history
- Recently undergone major stress
- Temperament that is more sensitive to stress or susceptible to negative emotions
- Certain changes in brain function
Panic attacks are usually triggered by certain stressful situations, but they can also be caused by some underlying medical conditions and physical causes such as:
- Mitral valve prolapse
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- Stimulant use (e.g. cocaine, caffeine, etc.)
- Medication withdrawal
Panic Disorder Symptoms:
Most common Panic Disorder symptoms are:
- Hot flashes
- Nausea / Indigestion
- Abdominal cramping
- Chest pain
- Dizziness or fainting
- Numbness or tingling sensation
- The feeling of detachment or derealisation
- Sense of upcoming doom or danger
- Fear of loss of control or death
- Rapid/pounding heartbeat
- Excessive sweating
- Trembling or shaking
- Shortness of breath or tightness in the chest
Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia:
Agoraphobia is a fear of public places and open spaces. It is believed that agoraphobia occurs as a complication of panic attacks or panic disorder. Although agoraphobia can start at any time, it is commonly appears within the first year of frequent panic attacks. If you develop agoraphobia, you can be scared of having a panic attack in a state where escape would be difficult. You might also be fearful of having a panic attack where you would not be able to get help because of these fears, and you start avoiding more and more situations such as social gatherings. Over time you become more isolated within your home.
People who have agoraphobia tend to avoid:
⦁ Places such as shopping malls, parks, or other crowded places.
⦁ Airplanes, cars, subways, busses, and other forms of travel.
⦁ Restaurants, social gatherings or other conditions where it would be embarrassing to have a panic attack.
⦁ Certain drinks or foods which can provoke panic such as caffeine or sugar or specific medications.
⦁ Going outside without company of someone who makes you feel safe.
⦁ In severe cases, you may only feel safe at home.
What are the risk factors for Panic Disorder?
Symptoms tend to start during adolescence or young adulthood years. They are more common in women than in men. Common factors that increase risk of developing this disorder are:
⦁ A family history of panic attacks or panic disorder
⦁ Major life stress, such as serious illness or death of a loved one
⦁ A recent traumatic event or threat to your integrity
⦁ Major life changes, such as a divorce or the birth of a baby
⦁ Excessive intake of caffeine or smoking
⦁ History of childhood abuse
Complications of Panic Disorder
If left untreated, panic attacks and panic disorder can upset almost every aspect of your day to day functioning. Complications may include the development of phobias, feeling panic in social situations, problems at work or school, developing an anxiety disorder, depression, or other psychological disorder, alcohol or illegal drug abuse, financial problems.
Prevention of Panic Attacks
⦁ Get treatment for panic attacks as soon as possible to stop them from becoming worse or becoming more regular.
⦁ Stick to your Panic Disorder treatment regimen to prevent setbacks or worsening of the symptoms of panic attacks.
⦁ Getting regular exercise and physical activity.
Panic Disorder Treatment:
Your doctor will take your health history and make sure there is no underlying physical problem that is causing your Panic Disorder symptoms and then refer you to a mental health professional. Panic disorder is usually treated with medication, psychotherapy, or both.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is specifically useful as a treatment of choice for panic disorder. CBT helps you develop different thought patterns and reactions to the feelings that come with a panic attack. The panic attacks begin to disappear once you learn to react in a different way.
Panic Disorder Medication
Your doctor may prescribe Panic Disorder medications to treat such as:
⦁ Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
⦁ Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
SSRIs and SNRIs are usually prescribed to treat depression, but they are also helpful for Panic Disorder symptoms.