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Mental Health

Panic disorder: causes, symptoms and treatment

When we have an intense fear of something, that fear may cause us to have a panic attack — and that’s a normal reaction to a very stressful or intense situation that goes away on its own. But suffering from panic disorder is very different.

To understand panic disorder, we first have to understand what a panic attack looks like. Symptoms of one include:

  • Racing or pounding heartbeat
  • Chest pains
  • Trouble breathing, shortness of breath — feeling like you are being chocked or can’t get enough air
  • Sweating, shaking and trembling
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Upset stomach, nausea
  • Sudden chills or hot flashes
  • Being paralyzed by fear
  • Numbness or tingling (like “pins and needles”)
  • Fear of losing control, going crazy or dying
  • Feeling like things are unreal or being detached from yourself

A panic attack will usually peak about 10-15 minutes after it starts, and is over in about 30 minutes. However, it can take longer for all symptoms to subside

Panic disorder symptoms

Panic disorder involves panic attacks; however, if you suffer from panic disorder, panic attacks are different than if you don’t. They are:

  • Unexpected and unpredictable — they can come out of the blue
  • Repeated — in some cases, as many as several attacks per week
  • About fearing the next panic attack — and not about a common fear, like flying, public speaking, heights or dogs, for example
  • Accompanied by the fear that something bad will happen — for example, the panic attack will cause fainting, embarrassment, insanity, a heart attack, death

Panic disorder causes and effects

While nobody knows what causes someone to have panic disorder, we do know that women are twice as likely to get it than men, and teens and those in early adulthood are at higher risk.

Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder. As such, it can stop people from participating in day-to-day life.

If you suffer from panic disorder, you may avoid places and situations where an attack may occur, like work, school, family and social functions. In severe cases, you may even completely isolate themselves from the outside world.

Panic disorder can also lead to depression, substance abuse and even suicide.

But treatment may help change that.

Panic disorder: treatment options

Panic disorder is very treatable — so much so that people who suffer from it can go on to lead normal lives

Treatment options include:

It's important to note that some heart conditions and thyroid disorder can be the source of these symptoms.

Want more information and support? Search “panic disorder” in Find Support for organizations in your area.

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