What are the common symptoms of panic disorder?

Common symptoms of panic disorder include recurrent, unexpected panic attacks that significantly worry the person and impacts their daily functioning. Panic attack symptoms include sweating, shaking, sensations or shortness of breath, feeling like one is being choked, chest pain, nausea, feeling dizzy, chills or heat sensations, pounding heart or palpitations, fear of losing control, and/or fear of dying.

How common is panic disorder?

Between 2 to 3 percent of American adults will have a panic attack in the past year. Panic disorder usually begins in young adulthood (ages 20 to 24 years old is the usual onset time), but can also begin earlier or later in life. Latinos, Afican Americans, Asian Americans and Carribean blacks all report lower rates of panic disorder compared to non-Latino whites.

Is panic disorder serious?

Panic disorder is real condition, and is potentially disabling. The distress of the panic attack itself can rob a person of their quality of life. The anticipation of the next panic attack can be just as powerful, keeping people from driving their cars or, in extreme cases, even leaving their homes.

What causes panic disorder?

Like most mental illnesses, we don’t know exactly what causes panic disorder. Scientists believe it is likely a combination of factors that include genetics, biology, and psychology.

Some researchers feel that the mechanism in the brain that alerts people to potential danger in the environment misfires during a panic attack. A person having a panic attack experiences this “false alarm” and feels as if his life is truly in jeopardy.

Will I always have panic disorder? Can it be cured?

Many people are successfully treated for panic attacks and no longer suffer from them, so being cured of panic disorder is quite possible (but full remission is rare). As with all mental disorders, one needs to work at overcoming panic disorder. A psychiatric medication can help with this, but long-term relief is usually provided through learning psychological techniques that will help you cope with the bodily sensations you feel when a panic attack begins.

Most people will experience a chronic waxing and waning of the disorder, where a person experiences an episodic outbreak of the disorder from time to time throughout their life.

What common treatments are available for panic disorder?

Psychotherapy is usually the recommended treatment for panic disorder. Because many people get treated for panic disorder from their primary care physician, though, most people simply take an anti-anxiety medication for treatment. Psychotherapy is usually focused on helping a person identify triggers and bodily cues and sensations associated with panic, then learning to apply immediate relaxation and imagery techniques to demonstrate control over these sensations. When practiced regularly, these techniques can be more effective than medications in helping to alleviate the most worrisome symptoms associated with panic disorder.

Does having a panic attack mean I’m crazy?

No, not at all. Lots of people get panic attacks and researchers believe it’s just a way that some people have mistaken normal body sensations in a way that feels more intense and uncomfortable than normal.