A panic disorder is characterised by repeated panic attacks, or episodes of intense fear that strike without warning.
The body has a natural “fight or flight” response to danger. When a person perceives some threat or danger, the autonomic nervous system is stimulated. This helps a person escape from danger. During a panic attack, the body’s automatic nervous system is triggered for no apparent reason. When a person experiences panic attacks regularly they may have a panic disorder and should seek medical assistance.
Signs and symptoms of a panic attack can include:
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- rapid heartbeat
- upset stomach
- thoughts of dying or losing control of ones mind
- numbness and tingling
- hot or cold flushes
- choking sensation
While the exact cause of panic disorder is unknown, genetics and social factors may play a part. Caffeine, amphetamines, and alcohol also may cause the disorder. Panic attacks can be triggered by severe or prolonged stress and tiredness. This disorder occurs more often in women than men. By learning about the disorder, a person can lessen the frequency and severity of the attacks.
But, before a doctor diagnoses a panic disorder, they often perform some tests to rule out medical problems. A panic disorder is diagnosed when a person has:
- four or more panic attacks in one month, or one panic attack followed by a month of fear of having another attack
- at least four of the symptoms listed above
If a panic disorder is not effectively treated, a person may not be able to function at work or at home. This can have a negative effect on relationships, academics, and other important parts of a person’s life.
Panic disorder is one of the most treatable mental disorders. It is best treated using cognitive behavioural therapy along with medication. The cognitive part of the therapy helps the person analyse and control thought patterns that produce panic and anxiety. Behaviour therapy helps control the physical symptoms.
Medications used to treat panic disorders include the newer antidepressant and antianxiety medications. Engaging in a regular exercise program has also been shown to reduce the frequency of panic attacks. People with panic disorders are strongly encouraged to reduce stress from their life and find a healthier balance. They are also asked to reduce or eliminate caffeine, smoking, alcohol and any other recreational drugs use