Panic disorder can be described as an anxiety disorder, where a person suffers from repeated panic attacks. During these attacks, he/she goes through an abrupt rush of overpowering fear, all of a sudden without any provocation. The disorder might lead to significant behavioral changes in the person, which last for at least a month. Along with that, he/she might continuously worry about the onset of more attacks, resulting in a condition known as anticipatory attacks. Though panic disorder is different from agoraphobia, it might be accompanied by the latter, in some cases. Usually affecting young adults, panic disorder is more common in females, as compared to males. However, it can be treated with therapy and medicines.
Till date, doctors have not been able to pinpoint a single reason behind panic disorder. However, stressful life events, life transitions and environment have been recognized as some of the culprits. Apart from that, it might also be a result of continuously thinking in a way that amplifies relatively normal bodily reactions. In many of the cases, the first panic attacks are activated by physical illnesses, major stress or certain medications. Using recreational drugs, taking on excessive responsibilities and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are some other triggers associated with panic disorder. It has also been seen that hypoglycemia, hyperthyroidism, mitral valve prolapse, labyrinthitis and pheochromocytoma can lead to panic disorder or even aggravate the problem.
- Racing heartbeat
- Difficulty in breathing, feeling as though you can't get enough air
- Terror that is almost paralyzing
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or nausea
- Trembling and shaking
- Chest pain
- Hot flashes or sudden chills
- Tingling in fingers or toes ('pins and needles')
- Feeling as if you are going to go crazy or are about to die
The symptoms that have been mentioned above are common as a part of 'flight or fight' response that human beings experience, whenever there are in a dangerous situation. However, these symptoms signify panic disorder in the following cases:
- They occur suddenly, without any warning and without any way to stop them.
- The amount of fear experienced by the person is way out of proportion to the actual situation. At times, it might be completely unjustified or unrelated.
- The symptoms cease to exist within a few minutes, at a time. However, they can continue to recur for hours.
A person who suffers from panic disorders tends to experience panic attacks, with a succession of strong episodes of acute anxiety. In majority of the cases, the attack lasts for a period of somewhere around 10 minutes, though attacks lasting 1-5 minutes only or stretching on for 20 minutes or more are also possible. There are also chances of the attacks intensifying and diminishing, over a period of hours. In many of the people, the panic attacks occur on a regular basis, sometimes even daily or weekly.
- Drug or medication abuse
- Alcohol abuse
- Phobia (excessive fear of certain things)
- Obsessive thinking or compulsive rituals
- Prolonged anxiety, tension, or worry
- Sad or depressed mood
- Poor sexual interest or ability
- Excessively dependent behavior
- Poor physical health