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Panic Disorder

Do you sometimes have sudden attacks of fear that last for several minutes? Do you feel like you are having a heart attack or can't breathe? Do these attacks occur at unpredictable times causing you to worry about the possibility of having another one at any time? If so, you may have a type of anxiety disorder called Panic Disorder.

What is Panic Disorder?

People with panic disorder have sudden and repeated attacks of fear that last for several minutes. Sometimes symptoms may last longer. These are called Panic Attacks. Panic attacks are characterized by a fear of disaster or of losing control even when there is no real danger. A person may also have a strong physical reaction during a panic attack. It may feel like having a heart attack. Panic attacks can occur at any time, and many people with panic disorder worry about and dread the possibility of having anther attack. A person with panic disorder may become discouraged and feel ashamed because he or she cannot carry out normal routines like going to the grocery store or driving. Having panic disorder can also interfere with school or work. Panic disorder often begins in the late teens or early adulthood. More women than men have panic disorder. But not everyone who experiences panic attacks will develop panic disorder.

What are the signs and symptoms of panic disorder?

People with panic disorder may have:
  • Sudden and repeated attacks of fear
  • A feeling of being out of control during a panic attack
  • An intense worry about when the next attack will happen
  • A fear or avoidance of places where panic attacks have occurred in the past
  • Physical symptoms during an attack, such as a pounding or racing heart, sweating, breathing problems, weakness or dizziness, feeling hot or a cold chill, tingly or numb hands, chest pain, or stomach pain
What causes panic disorder?

Panic disorder sometimes runs in families, but no one knows for sure why some people have it, while others don't. Researchers have found that several parts of the brain are involved in fear and anxiety. By learning more about fear and anxiety in the brain, scientists may be able to create better treatments. Researchers are also looking for ways in which stress and environment may plan a role.

How is panic disorder treated?

First, talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Your doctor should do an exam to make sure that another physical problem isn't causing the symptoms. The doctor may refer you to a mental health specialist. Panic disorder is generally treated with psychotherapy, medication, or both.