Panic disorder is a type of
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
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:
Changes in brain function or metabolism
Psychosocial stressors that combine to influence the brain's fear networks
Panic disorder is almost twice as common in women than in men. Other factors that may increase your chance of panic disorder include:
Family history of anxiety
Poor coping skills
History of physical or sexual abuse
Stressful life events
Increased sensitivity to physical sensations
History of another anxiety disorder or anxious temperament
Cigarette smoking during adolescence and young adulthood
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
Choking sensation or lump in the throat
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
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.
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
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