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.
Panic disorder is likely to be an interaction of:
Panic disorder is almost twice as common in women than in men. Other factors that may increase your chance of panic disorder include:
Panic attacks usually occur unexpectedly and repeatedly. Panic attack symptoms may include:
You will be asked 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 4 of the symptoms listed above and persistent worries about the attack for more than 1 month.
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:
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.
Education helps people to better understand what panic disorder is and how it can be treated. It focuses on the concepts that symptoms are not life-threatening and are common. It also helps the person to understand the course of treatment and develop realistic goals for overcoming the disorder. People who undergo treatment have an improved quality of life.
In some people, learning about panic disorder is enough to help relieve symptoms.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can prepare you for situations that may trigger panic attacks. Therapy focuses on:
Your doctor may recommend:
Some people find that avoiding caffeine may help reduce panic attacks. Caffeine is found in many products, like coffee, tea, chocolate, and soft drinks.
To help reduce your chance of panic disorder:
Anxiety and Depression Association of America
Mental Health America
Canadian Psychiatric Association
Canadian Psychological Association
Answers to your questions about panic disorder. American Psychological Association website. Available at: http://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety/panic-disorder.aspx. Accessed January 31, 2018.
Panic disorder. Anxiety and Depression Association of America website. Available at: https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/panic-disorder. Accessed January 31, 2018.
Panic disorder. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115030/Panic-disorder. Updated April 17, 2017. Accessed January 31, 2018.
8/22/2006 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116901/Agoraphobia: Furukawa TA, Watanabe N, Churchill R. Psychotherapy plus antidepressant for panic disorder with or without agoraphobia: systematic review. Br J Psychiatry. 2006;188:305-312.
Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD Last Updated: 1/26/2016