Panic Disorder

Definition

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent and unpredictable bursts of terror known as panic attacks. A panic attack is accompanied by physical symptoms that may feel similar to a heart attack or other life-threatening condition. Intense anxiety often develops between episodes of panic. As panic attacks become more frequent, people begin avoiding situations that could trigger them. Panic attacks can lead to agoraphobia. This is a fear of being trapped in places or situations where escape could be difficult or impossible.

Causes

Panic disorder is likely to be an interaction of:
  • Genetics
  • Changes in brain function or metabolism
  • Psychosocial stressors that combine to influence the brain's fear networks

Risk Factors

Panic disorder is almost twice as common in women than in men. Other factors that may increase your chance of panic disorder include:
  • Family history of anxiety
  • Poor coping skills
  • History of physical or sexual abuse
  • Stressful life events
  • Increased sensitivity to physical sensations
  • History of another anxiety disorder or anxious temperament
  • Cigarette smoking during adolescence and young adulthood

Symptoms

Panic attacks usually occur unexpectedly and repeatedly. Panic attack symptoms may include:
  • Sudden and intense episodes of fear
  • Racing, pounding, or skipping heartbeat
  • Chest pain, pressure, or discomfort
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Choking sensation or lump in the throat
  • Excessive sweating
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Tingling or numbness in parts of the body
  • Chills or hot flashes
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Feelings of unreality or being detached from the body
  • An urge to flee
  • Fear of impending doom, such as death, a heart attack, suffocation, loss of control, or embarrassment
  • Stomach pain
Symptoms of Anxiety
Physiological effects of anxiety
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

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