Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent and unpredictable bursts of terror known as panic attacks. A panic attack is accompanied by physical symptoms that may feel similar to a heart attack or other life-threatening condition. Intense anxiety often develops between episodes of panic. As panic attacks become more frequent, people begin avoiding situations that could trigger them. Panic attacks can lead to agoraphobia. This is a fear of being trapped in places or situations where escape could be difficult or impossible.

  • Causes

    Panic disorder is likely to be an interaction of:

    • Genetics
    • Changes in brain function or metabolism
    • Psychosocial stressors that combine to influence the brain's fear networks

  • Definition


    Panic disorder is a type of
    anxiety disorder
    characterized by recurrent and unpredictable bursts of terror known as panic attacks. A panic attack is accompanied by physical symptoms that may feel similar to a
    heart attack
    or other life-threatening condition.


    Intense anxiety often develops between episodes of panic. As panic attacks become more frequent, people begin avoiding situations that could trigger them. Panic attacks can lead to
    agoraphobia. This is a fear of being trapped in places or situations where escape could be difficult or impossible.

  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will also be done. The diagnosis can be made if you have had a panic attack with at least four of the symptoms listed above and persistent worries about the attack for more than one month.

    Since some panic disorder symptoms are similar to heart, digestive, and/or thyroid problems, your doctor may recommend tests to rule out an underlying condition.

    Tell your doctor about your physical symptoms and how the symptoms make you feel. Your doctor will want to know if the panic attacks interfere with your normal activities. You should also tell your doctor if you:

    • Have been feeling sad or hopeless

    • Have been
      drinking
      or using
      drugs
      to control symptoms

  • Prevention

    To help reduce your chance of developing panic disorder, take these steps:

    • Avoid drinks that contain caffeine
    • Avoiding abusing alcohol and drugs
    • Getting plenty of rest
    • Scheduling a regular quiet time for yourself at home
    • Participate in regular exercise—aim for at least 30 minutes per day most days of the week

  • Risk Factors

    Panic disorder is more common in women and young adults. Other factors that may increase your risk of developing panic disorder include:

    • Family history
    • Stressful life events
    • Increased sensitivity to physical sensations
    • History of another anxiety disorder or anxious temperament
    • Cigarette smoking during adolescence and young adulthood

  • Symptoms

    Panic attacks usually occur unexpectedly and repeatedly. Panic attack symptoms may include:

    • Sudden and intense episodes of fear
    • Racing, pounding, or skipping heartbeat
    • Chest pain, pressure, or discomfort
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Choking sensation or lump in the throat
    • Excessive sweating
    • Lightheadedness
    • Nausea
    • Tingling or numbness in parts of the body
    • Chills or hot flashes
    • Shaking or trembling
    • Feelings of unreality or being detached from the body
    • An urge to flee
    • Fear of impending doom, such as death, a heart attack, suffocation, loss of control, or embarrassment
    • Stomach pain
    Symptoms of Anxiety
    Physiological effects of anxiety
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  • Treatment

    The goal of treatment is to decrease the frequency and intensity of panic attacks. Studies support a combination of treatment methods to achieve success. Talk to your doctor about the best treatment plan for you.

    Options include: