What is a Panic Disorder?
Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that causes panic attacks. Panic attacks are an intense fear or discomfort when there is no real danger. It can reach a peak within minutes and involve at least four symptoms from below:
Palpitations, pounding heart or accelerated heart rate
Trembling or shaking
Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
Feeling of choking
Chest pain or discomfort
Nausea or abdominal distress
Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded or faint
Chills or heat sensations
Paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations
Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
Fear of losing control or going crazy
Fear of dying
The cycle of a panic disorder
Recognizing panic disorder
How you might think:
Thoughts that something terrible is about to happen
Thoughts that you are going to die
Thoughts that you have to escape right now
How you might feel:
A feeling of coming doom
How you might act:
Escape situations that you see as dangerous
Take protective actions (safety behaviors) to help manage in situations you are afraid of
Avoid situations where you have panicked before or where you worry you might panic
Stay vigilant for body sensations or cues that could indicate the onset of a panic attack
Causes of a Panic Disorder?
Strong biological reactions to stress: Some people’s bodies produce more stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.
Anxiety sensitivity: Some people are more sensitive to the feeling of their bodies. They are most likely to notice them and misinterpret them as dangerous.
Cognitive Biases including catastrophizing: These ‘ thinking habits’ that create an end of the world mindset may have been learned through our caregivers.
Other psychological problems: people suffering from a wide range of psychological problems such as OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) or PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) usually experience panic attacks.
Genetic Factors: Some genes predispose people to develop emotional problems in general but no specific genes which predispose people to develop panic
Who does it affect?
Panic disorder can affect anyone but it usually begins in the late teens or early adulthood. Women are more likely to have a panic disorder.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the treatment of choice for panic disorder. Medication should be only used in the long-term management of panic disorder and be very selective.