What is Panic Disorder?Panic disorder is a complex mental health condition that involves feelings of anxiety and apprehension. As outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), panic disorder is classified as an anxiety disorder with its own distinct set of diagnostic criteria.
Panic Disorder Risk FactorsPanic disorder typically develops in late adolescence or early adulthood, but can occasionally begin in childhood or late adulthood. Research has found strong familial links, suggesting that having a close biological family member with panic disorder puts one at greater risk for developing this condition. Panic disorder is almost twice as prevalent in women than men. People with panic disorder are prone to experiencing certain medical conditions and symptoms, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), COPD, headaches and migraines, and asthma.
Panic sufferers are at greater risk for developing separate and co-occurring mental health conditions. People diagnosed with panic disorder are prone to having additional anxiety disorders, such as agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder (SAD), specific phobias, and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Panic disorder sufferers are also at risk for developing a co-occurring mood disorder, such as major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder. It has been estimated that about half of those diagnosed with panic disorder will have at least one occurrence of depression during their lifetime. Substance-related problems can also be an issue for those with panic disorder and can potentially contribute to the symptoms of depression.panic attacks are experienced with a sudden sense of nervousness, fear, and/or dread along with 4 or more of the following physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms:
- Heart palpitations or accelerated heart rate
- Excessive sweating
- Trembling or shaking
- Shortness of breath or smothering sensations
- Feeling of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal pain
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
- Chills or hot flashes
- Derealization and/or depersonalization
- Fear of losing control or going crazy
- Fear of dying
- Feelings of numbness or tingling sensations (paresthesias)
Your doctor or therapist will be able to rule out the potential for any co-occurring mental health disorders. Once a diagnosis is made, your physician will be able to answer your questions, provide any necessary referrals, and discuss your treatment options. Your doctor or therapist will also collaborate with you on creating a treatment plan to fit your needs.
How is Panic Disorder Treated?Even though there is not a cure to this condition, there are numerous treatment options available to help people with panic disorder manage their symptoms. The most common options include prescribed medication and/or psychotherapy. Most of those with panic disorder will chose both these options along with practicing self-help techniques.
Medications for panic disorder, such as antidepressants and benzodiazepines, can help reduce the intensity of panic attacks and other anxiety-related symptoms. Psychotherapy can assist in helping you deal with difficult emotions and develop healthy coping techniques. Regardless of the options one chooses, it is important to get help for panic and anxiety. The sooner a diagnosis has been made and treatment begins, the quicker one can expect to cope with symptoms and manage life with panic disorder.
American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.