Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that goes beyond normal levels of fear and anxiety that occur in everyday lives. This disorder is very serious and strikes without warning. Around 2 million American adults suffer from it. The condition usually begins during late adolescence or early adulthood. Compared to men, women are twice as likely to suffer from this condition.
Panic disorder can accompany other serious conditions, like depression and alcoholism. This type of anxiety disorder is characterized by repeated panic attacks. The attacks usually last around ten minutes, but can be shorter (one to five minutes long) or longer (20 minutes long or more). The attacks may wax and wane for a few hours with the intensity of each attack varying. A panic attack is characterized by the following symptoms: dizziness, perspiration, shaking, nausea, numbness of fingers and toes, choking sensation, fear, hyperventilation, and more. The outward appearance of an attack can cause embarrassment. With time, a person with panic disorder develops a constant fear of having future panic attacks, or anticipatory attacks. This fear causes a person to withdraw from social and professional scenarios. Besides a panic attack, a person with panic disorder may have limited symptom attacks, which have fewer symptoms.
The exact cause of panic disorder is not fully known. However, according to studies, a combination of factors, including biological and environmental ones, are involved. These factors include genetics, brain abnormalities, substance abuse, and major stress. Genetics and family history are critical, as panic disorder tends to run in families. It seems to be a trait that can be passed on from parent to child. Problems in parts of the brain can also cause this condition. Further, the excessive use of drugs and alcohol plays a critical role, as does the presence of major life stress in a person’s life. A death of a close family member, for instance, can promote the development of panic disorder.
Individuals with panic disorder must seek treatment. Without it, the condition can bring forth serious consequences that can interfere with quality of life. These complications include avoidance, agoraphobia, claustrophobia, and anticipatory anxiety. Avoidance refers to the tendency of individuals with panic disorder to refrain from engaging in certain activities or situations. Agoraphobia refers to the fear of certain places. Because of the fear of having a spontaneous panic attack, many people with this type of anxiety disorder refrain from leaving their homes. About a third of people with panic disorder have agoraphobia. Claustrophobia refers to the fear of enclosed places.
Treatment usually includes a combination of therapies including psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, relaxation techniques, and medication. The counseling nature of psychotherapy helps alleviate the emotional aspect of mental illness. Talking through things really helps. It also helps to recognize patterns and behaviors through cognitive behavioral therapy. Anti-depressants and some heart medications can also help alleviate symptoms, as do relaxation techniques.
Even though the disorder cannot be prevented, there are some steps an individual can take decrease symptoms. These include reducing or stopping caffeine intake, refraining from taking over-the-counter drugs or herbal remedies that may contain anxiety-inducing ingredients, exercising, and eating healthy and balanced meals.