What is it?

Panic disorder occurs when you experience recurrent unexpected panic attacks. The manifestation of panic attacks may be as abrupt surges of intense fear or discomfort that peak within minutes. People with the disorder live in fear of having a panic attack. You may be having a panic attack when you feel sudden, overwhelming terror that has no obvious cause. You may experience physical symptoms, such as a racing heart, breathing difficulties, and sweating.

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Additional names

This group contains additional names:
- Panic Attacks
- Panic Attack
- Panic Disorder without Agoraphobia

Signs & symptoms

Symptoms of panic disorder usually begin to appear in teens and young adults. If you have had four or more panic attacks, or you live in fear of having another panic attack after experiencing one, you may have a panic disorder.
Panic attacks produce intense fear that begins suddenly, often with no warning. An attack typically lasts between 10 to 20 minutes, but in extreme cases, symptoms may last for more than an hour. The experience is different for everyone, and symptoms often vary.
Common symptoms associated with a panic attack include:
- Racing heartbeat or palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling like you are choking
- Dizziness (vertigo)
- Lightheadedness
- Nausea
- Sweating or chills
- Shaking or trembling
- Changes in mental state, including a feeling of derealization (feeling of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
- Numbness or tingling in your hands or feet
- Chest pain or tightness
- Fear that you might die

The symptoms of a panic attack often occur without clear reason. Typically, the symptoms are not proportionate to the level of danger that exists in the environment. Because these attacks can’t be predicted, they can significantly affect your functioning.

Diagnosis

People who experience symptoms of a panic attack, may seek emergency medical care. Most people who experience a panic attack for the first time believe that they are having a heart attack.
While at the emergency department, the emergency provider will perform several tests to see if the symptoms are caused by a heart attack. They may run blood tests to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms, or an electrocardiogram (ECG) to check heart function. If there is no emergency basis to the symptoms, they may offer to refer back to your primary care provider.
The primary care provider may perform a mental health examination and ask about the symptoms. All other medical disorders will be ruled out before your primary care provider makes a diagnosis of panic disorder.

Treatment

Treatment for panic disorder focuses on reducing or eliminating the symptoms. This is achieved through therapy with a qualified professional and in some cases, medication. Therapy typically involves cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This therapy teaches how to change thoughts and actions so that you can understand your attacks and manage your fear.

☝️ This is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult with your physician before making any medical decision.

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