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Panic Disorder Overview

Comprehensive information on Panic Disorder, Panic Attacks. Description of panic disorder plus signs, symptoms, causes and treatment of panic disorder.

What Does Panic Disorder Look Like?

Comprehensive information on Panic Disorder, Panic Attacks. Description of panic disorder plus signs, symptoms, causes and treatment of panic disorder.Imagine this: you've just entered your office building. You're headed for the elevator at a trot--maybe a little late. You punch the button. Suddenly you feel an intense sense of foreboding. Then raw fear. Something terrible is about to happen. You feel as if you may die the next second.

The elevator doors open. But you're too frightened to get on. You stand there in the lobby with your heart pounding, barely able to breathe. Other office workers file past you, looking back over their shoulders to see if something is wrong.

Something is. What's happened and what happens regularly to one in fifty people is a panic attack, the "crisis phase" of panic disorder. The crushing fear of the panic attack most often passes after a few minutes, but in its wake it leaves a residue of uneasiness: when might the panic come again?

"I'm just freaking out and I feel like my body's freaking out. I mean the shaking and the breathing and the sweats, and the heart and the pain in the chest--I feel like I'm going to have a heart attack or something. Except I never do..."

Panic Disorder Sufferer

The Panic Attack

Everyone has anxious times. Modern life, with its pace, its pressures to perform and produce, and its difficult relationships, seems at times almost to be a factory for stress. But the normal life's normal strains are not the stuff of panic disorder. The panic attacks stemming from the illness often strike in familiar places where there is seemingly "nothing to be afraid of." But when the attack comes, it comes as if there were a real threat, and the body reacts accordingly. Surroundings can take on an unreal cast, and a combination of symptoms sparks like the current in a crosswired fire alarm: the heart races, breathing gets shallower and faster, the whole nervous system signals: DANGER. The person suffering under this barrage may be convinced he or she is having a heart attack or stroke, or that he or she is going crazy or going to die.


 

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Researchers have determined that panic attacks are usually classified as being part of a panic disorder if they occur frequently (one or more times during a given four-week period) and are accompanied by at least four of the following symptoms:

  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest discomfort
  • Unsteady feelings
  • Choking or smothering sensations
  • Tingling
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Faintness
  • Trembling
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feelings of unreality
  • Fears of losing control, dying, or going insane

Not all attacks or all people have the same symptoms

The sense of danger and physical discomfort the attacks bring is so intense that many interpret them as the precursors of a heart attack or stroke, or the product of a brain tumor. Consequently, many panic disorder sufferers show up in emergency rooms where doctors unfamiliar with the illness judge that the patient is in no danger and send them home. This embarrassing process may repeat itself many times if the proper diagnosis isn't made.

"Most of my attacks came on when I was on the subway, and it got to the point where I couldn't take the subway anymore and it was affecting my work because I would be out of work a lot from not being able to take the subway. But eventually, I made myself take the subway, though I still experienced the attacks." (Panic Disorder Sufferer)

continue: Trying to Avoid More Panic Attacks

Last Updated: 29 March 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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