Panic Disorder

Overview

Panic Disorder involves recurrent, unexpected panic attacks along with anxiety about having additional panic attacks and/or changes in behavior designed to avoid having future panic attacks.

The Details

Panic Disorder involves recurrent and unexpected panic attacks. This means that the intense bursts of fear and other symptoms that make up a panic attack must occur without any warning on two or more occasions.


An expected panic attack is one that has an identifiable source or cause. For example if someone who has had panic attacks in the past when waiting to speak in public suddenly has another one while waiting to make a speech, that particular attack would be considered "expected". By contrast, an unexpected panic attack is one that seems to come about out of nowhere, with no obvious cause.


About half of the people who are diagnosed with Panic Disorder have both expected and unexpected panic attacks. But a minimum of at least two unexpected attacks is necessary for a formal diagnosis.


In addition to having actual panic attacks, a person with Panic Disorder will probably experience ongoing anxiety about having more panic attacks and/or about the potential consequences of having such attacks. A common worry is that a person is actually having a medical emergency such as a heart attack or breathing problems.


Those with Panic Disorder will also likely change their behavior in some way in an attempt to prevent having future panic attacks. This could mean for instance not exercising for fear that getting your heart rate up will initiate an attack, or avoiding certain situations or places where previous attacks have occurred.


People with Panic Disorder also tend to be more prone to worry and have excessive anxiety about both their physical and mental health. Concerns about specific medical and mental health conditions, as well as the tendency to jump to the worst case scenario are common. For instance, someone who feels like they're choking when having a panic attack might worry about having a respiratory illness.

Trends

Approximately 2-3% of adults and adolescents will be diagnosed with Panic Disorder. Diagnoses are much less common in children or those over the age of 45. For the most part, Panic Disorder will stick with a person throughout their life, however the symptoms may come and go. It’s not uncommon for a person to experience years of remission where they have zero panic attacks only for them to return at some point down the line.


Older adults may experience fewer panic attacks due to biological changes associated with aging. Additionally, older adults are more likely to feel like the panic attacks they have are expected rather than unexpected.


Women are diagnosed with Panic Disorder twice as often as men. Native Americans and Whites have the highest rates, while those of Latin, African, and Asian decent are diagnosed the least.


While the precise cause of Panic Disorder is not known, there does appear to be a genetic (hereditary) role that makes some individuals more susceptible to the condition.


Finally, it is important to keep in mind that people with Panic Disorder and particularly those who have had panic attacks in the last twelve months are at a greater risk of suicide.

Summary

Panic Disorder involves a person having multiple, unexpected panic attacks along with anxiety about having additional panic attacks and changes in behavior associated with trying to prevent future attacks.


Future panic attacks may be expected or unexpected and vary in intensity, duration, and frequency. The specific symptoms that an individual experiences will also vary from person to person.


A number of medical issues, some medications and substances, and other mental health conditions can lead to, cause, or at least mimic the symptoms of Panic Disorder and so it's important to take these possibilities into consideration. For example, medication aimed at relaxing a person and reducing their anxiety won't help to reduce symptoms caused by an overactive thyroid.


Most people with Panic Disorder will experience it in some form throughout their life, though the specifics such as the intensity or specific symptoms may change getting better or worse at various points in a person’s life. While a person may even have years without any symptoms at all, most people with Panic Disorder will likely face future panic attacks again at some point.

Disclaimer

All information on this website has been professionally prepared, but also intentionally written in a manner that is not overly technical. The terms used here are usually, but not always the formal and proper terminology or diagnoses that would be used between professionals. Similarly, we made a decision to not provide the full and exhaustive diagnostic criteria here. This is done so as to be informative and more easily understood by people who are not in the field of mental health. At the same time all reasonable efforts are taken to assure that the information presented here is as accurate as possible. We also provide a list of common definitions and abbreviations that you may find useful.

While clinical descriptions are not intended to be overly technical, they do attempt to be accurate and consistent with the DSM standards. Any changes made are superficial and done so for the sake of ease of comprehension.

 

It’s important to point out that the information provided on this website is not designed to replace a proper clinical assessment performed by a qualified professional. The descriptions on this website are not intended, nor should they be used to self-diagnose or to diagnose those around you.

Please also see our Terms & Conditions and particularly the sections on Clinical Information and Mental Health Conditions.

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