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Panic Disorder

What is panic disorder?

Panic disorder is characterized by chronic, repeated, and unexpected panic attacks—bouts of overwhelming fear of being in danger when there is no specific cause for the fear. In between panic attacks, people with panic disorder worry excessively about when and where the next attack may occur.

What are the characteristics of a panic attack?

Panic attacks can accompany several types of anxiety disorders—not only panic disorder. The following are the most common symptoms of a panic attack. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Pounding heart

  • Sweating

  • Trembling or shaking

  • Shortness of breath

  • Sensation of choking

  • Nausea or abdominal pain

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

  • Feeling unreal or disconnected from oneself

  • Fear of losing control

  • Fear of "going crazy" or dying

  • Numbness

  • Chills or hot flashes

  • Physical symptoms that mimic a heart attack and/or chest pain

Panic disorder can be distressing and disabling. The rate of irritable bowel syndrome is higher among people with panic disorder than among the general population. Alcohol may be abused as a means to relieve stress.

The symptoms of a panic attack may resemble other psychiatric conditions. Always see your health care provider for a diagnosis.

Who is affected by panic disorder?

Panic disorder typically first occurs in late adolescence or early adulthood, but may also begin in childhood. Women are twice as likely as men to experience this disorder, and some people may be genetically predisposed to the disorder. About 6 million Americans suffer from panic disorder.

Treatment for panic disorder

Specific treatment for panic disorder will be determined by your health care provider based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the disease

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the disease

  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Medication

  • Psychological treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy