Individuals diagnosed with panic disorder suffering from recurrent panic attacks and the fear that these attacks will recur. Panic attacks include physical, emotional and cognitive symptoms.
Physical symptoms of panic include shortness of breath, chest pain or pressure, sweating, dizziness, numbness, tingling, gastrointestinal upset and the sensation of feeling smothered. Emotional and cognitive symptoms include feelings of terror that strike without warning, a sense of impending doom or fear that one is on the verge of death. The attacks can occur anytime, anywhere, but generally last no more than ten minutes.
Panic disorder can be accompanied by symptoms of depression or drug or alcohol abuse and generally leads to a pattern of avoidance of places where attacks may have occurred. Often the individual feels as if they are “going crazy”.
Panic disorder is diagnosed twice as frequently in women than men. It is important to note that many individuals without panic disorder can experience symptoms of panic, but only about three percent of Americans actually have the disorder. In about one-third of the sufferers, symptoms are so debilitating that the individual actually becomes too terrified to leave the house, thus developing what is known as agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is described in detail in another section of this website.
Panic disorder is one of the most treatable of the anxiety disorders, responding in most cases to psychiatric medications and carefully targeted behavioral psychotherapy. Medications most commonly prescribed may include SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), benzodiazepines and beta-blockers. Meditation, yoga and other wellness techniques may help the sufferer develop self-soothing techniques which may enhance the effects of therapy. Avoidance of caffeine, illicit drugs, and even some over-the-counter cold medications can help keep panic symptoms at a minimum.
More information about panic disorder may be obtained by contacting the resources listed below.
Anxiety Disorders Association of America
8730 Georgia Ave., Suite 600
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Association for Advancement of Behavior Therapy (AABT)
305 7th Avenue, 16th floor
New York, NY 10001
Freedom from Fear
308 Seaview Avenue
Staten Island, NY 10305
Center for Mental Health Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Rm. 12-105 Parklawn Building
Rockville, MD 20857
National Institute of Mental Health
Office of Communications
6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 8184, MSC 9663
Bethesda, MD 20892-9663
Toll Free: 1-866-615-NIMH (6464)