Have you ever been overcome by an overwhelming sense of panic and anxiety? Have you ever suddenly broken out into a cold sweat and started trembling in terror? If you have then you have probably experienced a panic attack, one of the main panic disorder symptoms. If you think that you have panic disorder or if you know someone who does, it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible. Panic disorder can be treated, allowing you to once again enjoy all aspects of life.
What is Panic Disorder?
Panic disorder affects about 3 million American men and women every year. It can cause feelings of extreme fear and anxiety, and can make going to work, traveling, and just leaving the house very difficult. The main symptom is the panic attack, which is a sudden and overwhelming sensation of fear and terror. Panic attacks are also accompanied by multiple physical sensations.
While panic attacks are relatively common, people with panic disorder are often afraid to leave the safety and comfort of their homes in case they have a panic attack. Many have ongoing worry about future attacks or are convinced that their panic attacks are signs of life-threatening physical, emotional, or mental problems. As a result, many people with panic disorder develop fears of certain situations or places, or are unable to leave their homes. Panic disorder can become a debilitating illness that can last from several months to many years.
Types of Panic Disorder
There are two types of panic disorder: panic disorder with agoraphobia and panic disorder without agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is the extreme fear or avoidance that an individual associates with anxiety. Individuals with agoraphobia cannot leave their homes because their fears and anxiety are so intense. About 26% of individuals with panic disorder also have agoraphobia.
What Causes Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder
No one is really sure what causes panic disorder, though there are a number of theories on the subject. Possible factors contributing to the disorder include:
How Common is Panic Disorder?
Panic disorder affects about 1 in 75 people in North America. The disorder seems to affect women more than men, with women accounting for twice the number of cases. Panic disorder generally onsets between the ages of 18 and 24.
Symptoms of Panic Attacks
A panic attack is best described as a sudden increase in fear that peaks within five to ten minutes and is accompanied by at least four physical sensations. Sensations might include:
- racing heartbeat
- difficulty breathing
- chest pains or tightness
- hot flashes or chills
- tingling in the fingers and/or toes
- dizziness and/or nausea
- tightness in the throat and/or difficulty swallowing
- fear of dying, losing control, or going crazy
Complications of Panic Disorder
50% to 60% of people with panic disorder also suffer from depression, and 1 in 5 panic disorder sufferers will attempt suicide. Panic disorder is also highly correlated with substance abuse about 35% of sufferers have issues with drugs or alcohol.
Panic Disorder Treatment
There are a variety of treatments available to treat panic disorder. These treatments, both on their own and in combination, are highly effective. About 70% of those with panic disorder will recover significantly from their illness, and 20% will recover completely. Please consult with your health care provider to ensure that you are choosing the best treatment
Medication for Panic Attacks
Medications include both antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs. These medications can reduce both the severity and frequency of panic attacks in some individuals. They may also be effective in preventing panic attacks. Commonly prescribed antidepressants include Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, and Sarafem. Anti-anxiety medications, like Xanax and Klonopin, are also widely used. It typically takes between 4 and 12 weeks for medications to take effect.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective type of psychotherapy for panic disorder. It examines the scary thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that people have that are related to panic. Ofeten these scary thoughts, feelings, and behaviors form a negative cycle that serves to maintain panic. Treatment involves trying to address these different areas to help reduce panic.
Many therapists will combine cognitive behavior therapy with a technique known as interoceptive exposure. This technique allows the patient to expose herself to a phobia in a safe environment, so that she can overcome that phobia. Panic disorders are usually effectively managed by psychotherapy in 8 to 20 sessions.