Panic disorder is a mental health condition where a person experiences recurrent anxiety and panic attacks. Commonly, such attacks have no particular trigger or cause. Normally, panic and anxiety can result when an individual is placed in a stressful or dangerous situation. However, in people with panic disorders, the anxiety attacks have no apparent cause and may occur at any time.
- Anxiety is typically characterized by a feeling of dread, apprehension, fear or sense of impending doom
- Excessive worrying is common in people with a panic disorder
- Panic disorder is also associated with phobias
- A patient may already have generalized anxiety disorder or post traumatic stress disorder
- During a panic attack, a patient may experience sweating, trembling, overwhelming fear, apprehension, nausea, a rapid and irregular heartbeat and palpitations. There may also be difficulty in breathing and tightness in the chest. The frequency of panic attacks determines the severity of the condition.
Diagnosis and treatment
People experiencing panic attacks for no apparent reason need to visit their physician who would carry out a detailed evaluation of a patient's symptoms, including symptom severity, frequency and duration. A complete mental health evaluation is also usually performed. For diagnosis to be confirmed, there needs to be one well defined panic attack followed by a month of worry or concern regarding future attacks.
Treatment aims at reducing the frequency of panic attacks and easing the anxiety associated with the fear of further attacks. The usual treatment approach involves a combination of medications and talking therapy or psychotherapy.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc