Panic Disorder is characterized by panic attacks, which are short (less than 15 minutes) episodes of intense fear that are often accompanied by physical symptoms and feelings of dread/doom. A panic attack differs from a normal fear response in that it strikes without the presence of a threat or an oncoming attack. Someone with a panic disorder experiences panic attacks so often that they begin to spend a significant amount of their time worrying about having another attack, worrying that they are losing their mind, or changing their daily routine because of the panic attacks.

Symptoms

Since panic disorder is largely defined by the presence of panic attacks, symptoms of panic attacks are fundamental to understanding the symptoms of panic disorder. An individual may be experiencing a panic attack if the following occurs:

  • A sudden surreal feeling of detachment from oneself
  • Difficulty breathing and feelings of choking
  • An accelerated heart rate
  • Dizziness and nausea
  • Numbness and tingling sensations
  • A sudden feeling of intense fear and/or anxiety
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Chest pain

Who's At Risk?

The onset of panic attacks typically begins in late adolescence or early adulthood. However, panic attacks do not always develop into a panic disorder. People with phobias may have an induced risk of panic disorder. Women are twice as likely men to develop the condition.

Diagnosis

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), a panic attack is defined as a discrete period of intense fear or discomfort, often accompanied by physical symptoms such as palpitations and trembling. Repeated, consistent panic attacks that get in the way of everyday functioning is considered a defining symptom of panic disorder.

Treatment Options

While panic attacks may be one of the most terrifying and unpleasant experiences a person can endure, the good news is that panic attacks and disorders respond exceptionally well to treatment. Like most anxiety disorders, both medications and psychotherapy can be effective for panic disorder. Many people fully recover from panic disorder with proper therapy and without the use of medications. That being said, anti-anxiety medications are sometimes used depending upon the frequency and severity of attacks.

Therapy

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This psychiatric therapy technique encourages the patient to learn the connection between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This understanding can allow the patient to visualize the underlying cause of their anxiety.

Medications

There are several different classes of medications that are often used to treat panic disorder. All of these types of medications can help reduce anxiety, but do so in different ways and with different side effects and risks.

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): A frequently used anti-depressant medication for GAD, SSRIs include fluoxetime (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), paroxetine (Paxil), and fluvoxamine (Luvox).
  • Benzodiazepines: A frequently used sedative and anti-anxiety medication for GAD, benzodiazepines include diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), clonazepam (Klonopin), and alprazolam (Xanax).
  • Others: There are several other medications that are sometimes prescribed for anxiety and are not SSRIs or benzodiazepines. These include gabapentin (Neurontin), quetiapine (Seroquel), and hydroxyzine (Atarax).

Consult your doctor if you believe you have any of the symptoms related to this disorder and discuss the benefits and risks of any medication or therapy that could potentially be used to treat your symptoms.

Source: National Institute of Mental Health.