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Panic Disorder

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A survey shows that 1.7 percent of the adult American population suffer from panic disorder. Panic disorder usually sets in during the teens or early adulthood. Women are more likely to develop this disorder as compared to men. One out of seventy five persons worldwide will experience panic attack at least once during their life. Panic disorders can last from a few months to a few years depending on the severity of the condition and the treatment undertaken. The exact cause for panic disorder is not known though it is generally related to the important changes in life that could be the probable causes for stress. To a certain degree panic disorder runs in families.

Repeated panic attacks lead to a condition of anxiety panic disorder. People suffering from panic disorder may suffer other phobias such as social phobia, agoraphobia and depression. Large sections of the population feel that panic disorder is shameful and thus hide it from their own family and friends. They remain silent sufferers and get into a shell thereby distancing themselves from the outside world. It is essential to realize that there is treatment for panic disorder and that panic disorder is completely curable. Find out what are the typical symptoms of panic disorder.


What is panic disorder?

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder where patients suffer from periodic, severe and frequently recurring panic attacks. Panic disorder is typified by sudden and frequent incidents of acute fear along with physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, breathing difficulty, abdominal distress etc. Panic attack can occur anytime and anywhere. Typically panic disorder can be defined as the sudden start of deep fear that hits the highest point within a few minutes accompanied by a sequence of symptoms. Panic attacks are also linked to alcohol and drug abuse, hyperthyroidism and certain medication.


Panic disorder symptoms

Patients suffering from panic disorder generally have a sequence of severe episodes of extreme anxiety, termed as panic attacks. A panic attack is an unexpected spurt of overpowering fear that occurs with no warning and without a clear cause. Listed below are a few common symptoms of panic disorder


  • Panic that is nearly paralyzing

  • Racing heartbeat

  • Difficulty in breathing

  • Sweating, shaking, trembling

  • Nausea, lightheadedness and dizziness

  • Hot flashes or unexpected chills

  • Chest pains, feeling of choking

  • Stinging in fingers and toes similar to 'pins and needles'

  • Fear of going mad or about to die

  • Wanting to escape

These symptoms can occur while a person is asleep too. Few marked symptoms of panic disorder include:


  • Experiencing panic all of a sudden, arising from nowhere without any forewarning.

  • This type of panic cannot be stopped easily.

  • The fear is unrelated to the circumstance and the intensity of fear is way out of proportion to the real situation.

  • The panic settles down in a few minutes but chances of recurrence are very high.

Panic attacks are not risky but are a horrifying experience as things generally get out of hand during this situation. This disorder slowly eats into the self confidence of a person making it difficult for the person to face society in a normal manner. These people tend to feel insecure.


Treatment for panic disorder

Panic disorder can be treated with a blend of cognitive and behavioral therapies. The first phase is information phase wherein people suffering from this disorder are made to understand what exactly panic disorder is. They are made to understand that their fear of going crazy or getting a heart attack is just a feeling and will not really happen. Therapists help the patients in changing the way they think and feel - 'cognitive restructuring'. They help them feel more optimistic and view the attacks in a realistic way.

Behavior therapy: This aids the patients in gaining control over behavior. They are taught to gain control over complicated situations by exposing them regularly to such situations. This therapy improves the confidence level of the patient to face similar difficult situations in life.

Cognitive therapy: This therapy assists the patient to transform destructive and futile thinking patterns. The patient is allowed to self analyze his thoughts and is taught to separate sensible from impractical thoughts. It assists the patient in identifying the probable reason for the panic attack.
Reason for the attack varies from individual to individual, the possible trigger for the attack could be thought, slight change in heartbeat, situation etc. Through this therapy, the patient is made to realize that panic attacks are different and independent of the trigger. Once the patient realizes this, the trigger for the attack starts to lose some of its influence in stimulating an attack.

Cognitive-behavior therapy: A combination of both behavior and cognitive therapy that is practiced by therapists is called as CBT or cognitive - behavior therapy. The patient is trained to develop recovery skills for the current condition and this is useful for the future too.

Relaxation techniques help patients overcome the panic attack. Relaxation techniques such as optimistic thought, breathing re-training, etc are taught. Patients are particularly taught to control their breathing rate that usually is a little higher when they face these attacks. This technique helps the patient develop skills to handle stresses that add to anxiety.

Support groups are of great help to help a person recover from panic attacks. Just listening and lending a supportive shoulder will be a great support to the patients.

Medications: Medications are recommended for patients who need a little more than just therapies to overcome panic disorder. Sometimes anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medicines are prescribed in combination with therapies. Medications are effective in most of the patients and have to be used under the guidance of a physician.

Duration of the treatment depends on the intensity of the disorder and can last from 10 weeks to 20 weekly sessions. Licensed psychologist or any mental health professional with prior experience in panic and/or anxiety disorder will be able to treat patients with panic disorder.


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