Panic Disorder

Many people that have problems with anxiety may also experience panic attacks. Anxiety is a manageable amount of worry or fear that occurs when a person feels threatened. The person is able to continue functioning while feeling anxious. However, a panic attack is characterized by sudden, intense fear or terror with associated thoughts of impending doom and may have no observable cue that initiated the panic attack. It is similar to the fight or flight response that occurs during a time of great danger. The body responds with a cascade of hormones, modifying the physiology of the body to accomodate the danger and needed internal resources. DSM-IV-TR (2001) lists criteria for a panic attack as: 
  • Heart palpitations, pounding heart, or speeding heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath or sensation of smothering
  • Feeling of choking
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • A sense of unreality or detachment from reality
  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of dying
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Chills or hot flashes

These symptoms may occur suddenly without warning. Some people fear they are having a heart attack because the symptoms feel so extreme. Not everyone who has a panic attack has a panic disorder. They may only experience one or two events. Following an acute, frightening panic attack, the individual may avoid the situation or one similar to the one in which the panic attack occurred. They may feel so helpless during the experience of the panic attack that they never want to experience feeling that way again.

Panic Disorders are characterized by:

  • Recurrent panic attacks
  • At leaset one month of concern and fear of another panic attack
  • Change in behavior because of the fear of having another panic attack


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