Do you sometimes have overwhelming feelings of anxiety and intense fear that appear almost out of nowhere?

You may feel your heart pounding, have a hard time catching your breath, become sweaty, and notice your hands are shaky.

This can be scary if you don’t know what’s going on. Some people who have a panic attack for the first time believe they’re having a heart attack. This is why so many of them visit the emergency room during a panic attack.

If these attacks happen often and without warning and last for several minutes, you may have panic disorder.

Panic disorder occurs when you have a surge of intense fear that strikes suddenly and repeatedly without warning. These overwhelming feelings of anxiety and stress are often referred to as panic attacks.

Panic disorder symptoms are mostly centered around panic attacks. Symptoms of a panic attack often include a pounding or racing heart, sweatiness, and dizziness. Your hands may tingle or feel numb, causing you to genuinely believe you’re having a heart attack or stroke.

A panic attack isn’t dangerous, but it can be frightening. It can make you feel like you’re “out of control.”

But you’re not alone. In fact, panic disorder affects 6 million U.S. adults, or 2 to 3% of the U.S. population, each year.

How often and severe your symptoms are will be unique to you. Not everyone has the same symptoms or the same number of attacks.

Let’s take a closer look at these symptoms.

While most panic attacks average only a couple of minutes, they can feel much longer when you’re having one. Sometimes these attacks can go on for up to 10 minutes. In rare cases, they may last an hour or more.

If you have panic disorder, you’ll most likely only have symptoms when you’re having a panic attack. Your symptoms can be both physical and psychological (or emotional).

Physical symptoms

Common physical symptoms of a panic attack can include:

  • pounding heart (or palpitations)
  • chest pain or discomfort
  • trembling or shaking
  • sweating
  • chills or hot flashes
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • faintness
  • nausea or abdominal distress
  • feelings of choking
  • numbness or tingling sensations

Psychological symptoms

Psychological (or emotional) symptoms of a panic attack can include:

  • a sense of unreality (derealization) or of being detached from oneself (depersonalization)
  • a fear of dying or that something bad is going to happen
  • a feeling of smothering
  • a fear of losing control or “going crazy”

Panic attacks can be scary. If you have them often, you may find yourself having anxiety between attacks, worrying and wondering when and where the next one will happen.

The anticipation of the next panic attack can be just as powerful as the panic attack itself. Sometimes it can keep you from participating in activities that may trigger an attack.

For some people, panic disorder can restrict their lives. They may begin to avoid normal, everyday activities, such as grocery shopping, driving, or even leaving the house in some cases.

They eventually begin to avoid any situation they fear may make them feel helpless if a panic attack occurs.

But help is available. Your symptoms are treatable, and with the right treatment, you can learn to manage your symptoms.

Looking for more? Here’s a deep dive on treatment for panic disorder.

So, you’ve had a panic attack. Does that mean you have panic disorder?

Not necessarily.

Although panic attacks are a defining characteristic of panic disorder, not everyone who experiences panic attacks will develop panic disorder.

Based on guidelines from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), your healthcare provider may ask you questions, such as how often you’re having these attacks, to determine if you in fact have panic disorder.

A large 2016 survey found that about 13.2% of people worldwide have experienced a panic attack at some point in their lives. Of those people, only around 2 to 3% develop panic disorder.

Many people have a single panic attack and never experience another.

Panic attacks can occur in disorders other than panic disorder, such as agoraphobia. A mental healthcare professional can help you figure out if panic disorder or another disorder is causing your panic attacks.

Whether you have access to a therapist or not, there are strategies and techniques you can use to manage your symptoms.

It’s possible to live well with an anxiety disorder. Here’s how.

Now that you have a name for your symptoms, what’s next?

The good news is that panic disorder is one of the most treatable mental health conditions. The key is to find the right treatment and stick to it.

This may be a combination of psychotherapy (talk therapy), medication, and self-care strategies, such as meditation and exercise.

Whatever path you take to manage your symptoms, be sure it’s the right one for you and your lifestyle. Don’t be afraid to switch things up if something isn’t working.

Having support from family and friends who you trust to support you will go a long way in helping you manage your symptoms and learn how to live with panic disorder.