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Misdiagnosis of Panic Disorder

Could You Have Been Misdiagnosed?

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Updated October 24, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

The American Psychiatric Association first recognized panic disorder as a mental health condition in 1980. It was then that panic disorder was categorized into the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the handbook used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental health conditions.

Researchers, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals who treat panic disorder have long debated about what criteria to include in the diagnosis of panic disorder. Currently, there are proposed changes in the diagnostic criteria of panic disorder planned to go into effect when the next DSM is published in 2013. When these changes are made, panic disorder and agoraphobia may be considered separate and distinct mental health conditions.

Given that panic disorder and agoraphobia are relatively newly classified disorders, that there are many public misconceptions about panic disorder, and the difficulty that mental health professionals have in agreeing about the diagnostic criteria, it is not surprising that panic disorder has the potential to be misdiagnosed.

After seeking help for panic disorder, it is possible to be misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. Listed here are some potential reasons why a misdiagnosis can occur.

Related and Co-Occurring Conditions

There are several mental health conditions that have some similar features and symptoms of panic disorder. According to the DSM, panic disorder is categorized as an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders all have some similarities, particularly underlying fear and worry. Social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, general anxiety disorder, and PTSD are all anxiety-related conditions that share commonalities with panic disorder. Since these disorders are so closely related, it is not surprising that misdiagnosis can occur.

It is also not uncommon for a person with panic disorder to have another mental health condition as well. Misdiagnosis can occur when one disorder remains unrecognized. For example, depression is a mood disorder that frequently accompanies panic disorder. If a person is struggling with both symptoms of depression and panic, it can be possible that the symptoms of depression are more evident than the panic disorder symptoms.

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Miscommunication with Mental Health Professionals

When seeking out help for your panic disorder and anxiety, it is important to find professionals who are knowledgeable about diagnosing mental health conditions. Family doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, and mental health counselors are all professionals who treat panic disorder.

In order to get the right diagnosis, you will need to be open and honest about your symptoms. Misdiagnosis can occur if your doctor does not have clear and accurate information on what you have been experiencing. Good communication with your doctor will help you get the diagnosis and treatment that you need. Make sure that you discuss any concerns about your diagnosis with your doctor and don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.

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Not Understanding Panic Disorder

There are many misunderstandings and myths about panic disorder. For example, the media often uses the term "panic attack" to describe common nervousness. Many times, the words panic attack and anxiety are used interchangeably, even though there are distinct differences.

If you have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, ask your provider to explain the diagnostic criteria to you and reasons for giving you that diagnosis. You may believe that you have been misdiagnosed, but it is possible that you did not fit the diagnostic criteria for panic disorder.

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Misdiagnosis is a serious issue. If you have been misdiagnosed or undiagnosed, you may not receive the proper treatment for panic disorder. If you believe you have been misdiagnosed, address your concerns with your doctor or mental health provider. It can be helpful to have a list of your symptoms available and you may want to consider enlisting a supportive loved one to bring along to your appointment. Most likely, your doctor will address your concerns and determine a treatment plan that will help you manage your symptoms.

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association. "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., text revision" 2000 Washington, DC: Author.

Dattilio, F. M. & Salas-Auvert, J. A. “Panic Disorder: Assessment and Treatment Through a Wide-Angle Lens” 2000 Phoenix, AZ :Zeig, Tucker & Co., Inc.

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