Panic Disorder: Definition, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Panic disorder is diagnosed in people who experience spontaneous attacks apparently out of the ordinary and are very concerned about the fear of a recurring attack. Panic attacks happen unexpectedly, sometimes even when you wake up from sleep, usually starting in adulthood (after age 20), but children can get it.

What is panic disorder?

It is an anxiety disorder characterized by recurring unexpected panic attacks, which are sudden periods of intense fear that can include palpitations, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, numbness, or the feeling that something terrible will happen. The maximum degree of symptoms occurs in minutes; there may be constant concerns about having more attacks and avoiding places where attacks have happened in the past.

Panic attacks are characterized by fear of disaster or losing control even when there is no real danger. A person can also have a strong physical reaction during an attack; it can feel like a heart attack, and it can happen anytime.

People with panic disorder may become discouraged and embarrassed because they cannot carry out everyday routines such as going to school or work, going to the grocery store, or driving. Often beginning in the late teens or early adulthood, more women than men tend to suffer from this disorder.

Panic Disorder

What are the symptoms of panic disorder?

Symptoms begin to appear in adolescents and young adults under 25 years of age; if you have had four or more panic attacks or live in fear of having another attack after experiencing one, you may be suffering from this disorder.

Panic attacks produce intense fear that begins suddenly, often without warning, typically lasting 10-20 minutes, but symptoms can last for more than an hour in extreme cases. The experience is different for everyone, and symptoms often vary.

Common symptoms associated with a panic attack include:

  • Palpitations or heartbeat.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Feeling of suffocation
  • Dizziness (vertigo)
  • Daze.
  • Nausea.
  • Sweat or chills.
  • Temblor.
  • Changes in mental state, including a feeling of derealization (sense of unreality) or depersonalization (detachment from oneself).
  • Numbness or tingling in your hands or feet.
  • Chest pain or stiffness
  • Fear that you might die.

The symptoms of a panic attack occur without an apparent reason; they are not proportional to the level of danger in the environment; because these attacks cannot be predicted, they can significantly affect its functioning. Fearing an attack or remembering it can trigger another attack.

Causes of panic disorders

Although the exact causes are not clear, the tendency to have these attacks runs in families; there also seems to be a connection with major life transitions, such as graduating from college and entering the workplace, getting married, or having a baby. . The stress severe as the death of a loved one, divorce or job loss can also trigger panic attacks.

Medical conditions and other physical causes can also cause them; if you are suffering from panic symptoms, it is essential to consult a doctor to rule out the following possibilities:

  • Mitral valves prolapse is a minor heart problem that occurs when one of the heart valves does not close properly.
  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland).
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
  • Stimulant use (amphetamines, cocaine, caffeine).
  • Withdrawal of medications.

How is panic disorder diagnosed?

If you experience symptoms, you can seek emergency medical attention. Most people who share it for the first time think they have a heart attack.

While in the emergency department, the provider will run various tests to see if a heart attack causes your symptoms; they may perform blood tests to rule out other conditions that may cause similar symptoms or an EKG to monitor heart function. If there is no emergency basis for your symptoms, you will be referred to your primary care provider.

There is no lab test specifically for this disorder; your doctor will probably examine you and rule out other health problems; if you have had two or more random attacks and live in fear of repeating an episode, you likely have panic disorder.

How is panic disorder treated?

First, talk to your doctor about your symptoms, who should do an exam and ask about your health history to make sure an unrelated physical problem is not causing your symptoms; he may refer you to a mental health specialist, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Panic disorder is usually treated with psychotherapy, medicine, or both; talk to your doctor about the best treatment.


A type of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy is beneficial as a first-line treatment, teaching you different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to feelings that arise. The attacks can start to go away once you learn to respond differently to the physical sensations of anxiety and fear.

For more information on psychotherapy, see Psychotherapy.


Doctors can also prescribe different types of medications to help treat panic disorder:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • beta-blockers
  • Benzodiazepines

SSRIs and SNRIs are commonly used to treat depression, but they are also helpful for panic disorder symptoms; they can take several weeks to start working. These medications can also cause side effects, such as headaches, nausea, or trouble sleeping; they are generally not severe for most people, especially if the dose starts low and increases slowly over time; talk to your doctor about any effects. Secondary that you have.

Another type of medicine called beta-blockers can help control some of the physical symptoms of panic disorder, such as a rapid heart rate. Although doctors do not generally prescribe it, it can be helpful in certain situations that precede a panic attack.

Benzodiazepines, which are sedative medications, are potent in rapidly reducing seizure symptoms but can cause tolerance and dependence if you use them continuously. Therefore, your doctor will only prescribe them for short periods if you need them.

Your doctor will work with you to find the best medication and dosage for you.

Do not quit treatment too quickly; psychotherapy and medication may take some time to work. A healthy lifestyle can help fight it – make sure you get enough sleep and exercise, eat a healthy diet, and turn to family and friends you trust for support.

Self-help tips for panic attacks

No matter how helpless or out of control you may feel, it is essential to know that there are many things you can do to help yourself. The following self-help techniques can make a big difference in helping you overcome panic:

Learn about panic and anxiety. Simply knowing more can go a long way toward easing your distress. Read about anxiety, panic disorder, and the fight or flight response experienced during an attack.

Avoid smoking, alcohol, and caffeine. All of these can lead to panic attacks in susceptible people, be careful with medications that contain stimulants, such as diet pills and cold medicines without drowsiness.

Learn how to control your breathing. Hyperventilation causes many sensations (such as lightheadedness and chest tightness) during a panic attack. On the other hand, it can alleviate panic symptoms; by learning to control it, you can calm yourself when you feel anxious, and you are less likely to create the same feelings you are afraid of.

Practice relaxation techniques. When practiced regularly, activities like yoga, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation strengthen the body’s relaxation response, the opposite of the stress response involved in anxiety and panic, and not only do these relaxation practices promote peace, but they also increase feelings of joy and serenity.

Connect face-to-face with family and friends. Anxiety symptoms can be worse when you feel isolated, so reach out to the people you care about regularly; if you feel like you have no one to turn to, explore ways to meet new people and build supportive friendships.

Get regular exercise. Exercise is a natural pain reliever, so try to move for at least 30 minutes most days (three 10-minute sessions are just as good). Rhythmic aerobic exercise that requires moving both arms and legs, such as walking, running, swimming, or dancing, can be incredibly effective.

Get enough sleep. Insufficient or poor-quality sleep can worsen anxiety, so try to get seven to nine hours of sleep a night.

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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.

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