What is a panic disorder?
When unexpected, debilitating, intense feelings of anxiety keep on recurring, then you are experiencing a panic disorder. Panic attacks are sudden surges of intense discomfort or fear of experiencing a panic attack without an apparent cause. Physical symptoms like difficulty breathing, sweating, shortness of breaths and heart palpitation are some of the physical symptoms that you may feel.
For most people, a panic attack might occur at least once in their lifetime. According to reports by the American Psychological Association, 1 out 75 people are likely to experience panic disorder identified by the fear of experiencing another attack right after having gone through one or several concerns about other panic attacks.
Although the disorder’s symptoms can be frightening or overwhelming, they can be improved or managed when treated. The most crucial part of improving your life and reducing your symptoms is to seek treatment.
Symptoms of panic disorder
If you are fearful of panic attacks, or you have experienced several panic attacks, you might be having a panic disorder. You will experience intense fear with panic attacks without warning. An attack will last between 10 to 20 minutes. In extreme cases, the symptoms will last more than 60 minutes. The experience is usually different and varies for everyone.
Some of the symptoms that you might feel when you experience panic attacks include:
- Shortness of breath
- Palpitations of the heart
- Vertigo or dizziness
- Chills or sweating
- The feeling of being choked
- The tightness of the chest or chest pains
- Fear of dying
- Tingling or numbness of the feet or the heart
- Phobic avoidance – you will start to avoid some environments or situations. This might be based on your inclination to prevent the cause of the previous panic attack. You may also try to avoid places where it can be hard to escape should a panic attack happen. On the extreme end, you may experience agoraphobia.
- Anticipatory anxiety – instead of feeling normal in between attacks, you will become tensed or anxious. This anxiety originates from the fear or experience of other panic attacks. This fear or fear will inhibit you in very many ways.
It is a mystery as to why panic attack symptoms occur often. Your therapist can support you in uncovering the reasons behind the intense anxiety that causes panic attacks. Ideally, the symptoms do not correlate with the present danger in the environment. Since you cannot predicate the attacks, the fear of reoccurrence of attacks will inhibit your functioning.
Causes of a panic attack
There are no defined rules of what causes a panic attack. Research shows that panic disorder can be hereditary. You can also experience a panic attack with the transitions of life, getting married, going to college, or bearing a child for the first time. All these major transitions in life are stressful and they can trigger a panic disorder. Research indicated that untapped and unattended past anxiety, trauma and fears could cause panic attacks.
The risk of developing panic disorder
We have clearly stated that the panic disorder causes are not well understood, but the details about the disease ascertain that some groups of people are likely to develop the disorder. For instance, it is said that women can easily develop the condition, twice as fast, as stated by the NHIM (National Institute of Mental Health.)
Diagnosis of panic attack
Seeking emergency medical care is the right thing to do when the symptoms of panic attack exhibit. For first-timers, they associate the feeling of a panic attack to having a heart attack.
When you visit an emergency department, you will undergo some tests to check on your symptoms. You will undergo a blood test to rule out conditions that can create the same symptoms. You may also undertake an electrocardiogram to check the function of your heart. If you have no emergency, then you will be referred to a panic disorder therapist.
A mental health examination will be performed, and symptoms will be checked. Before the diagnosis of a panic disorder is done, other disorders will have to be ruled out.
The treatment of panic disorder is targeted at eliminating or reducing the symptoms you have. You will achieve this through therapy from a qualified panic disorder therapist, and in some instance, you will get some medication. For the therapy session, you will also undergo cognitive behavioral therapy that will help you to control how you think and acts so that you can manage your fear and understand your attacks.
Some of the medications that you will be given include SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which is a class of antidepressant. Some of the SSRI prescriptions of panic disorder may include:
Other kinds of medication that are used include:
- Antiseizure drugs
- MAOI’s (monoamine oxidase inhibitors), which is another form of antidepressant used rarely; they have serious side effects.
- Benzodiazepines like Clonazepam or diazepam.
You can also do the following to reduce your symptoms:
- Get enough sleep
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a regular schedule
- See a therapist on a regular basis
- Eat well and healthy
Some people who have the disorder do not react very well to treatment. In other cases, some patients will not exhibit symptoms for some time, but when they experience the attacks and the symptoms become less intense. All the same, most people who suffer from the condition will often get some relief after treatment.
Efforts in preventing panic disorder are futile. However, looking to reduce the symptoms by avoiding stimulants, e.g. coffee, alcohol, and other illicit drugs can work. When you notice that you are experiencing anxiety after a distressing event, you will start treatment early. If you realize that something that you have already experienced or exposed to is disturbing you, seek a therapist to discuss the situation.