is a Panic Disorder?
Disorder is a cluster of intense anxiety-based symptoms, “panic
attacks”, that can occur anywhere and at any time. Unlike
Phobias, they are not attached to specific situations or objects,
although some people with Phobias do experience panic attacks. Panic
attacks can also be a symptom of other conditions such as Depression
or Agoraphobia. However, a Panic Disorder is diagnosed when other
conditions are not present, and when the panic attacks occur in
any situation, over a prolonged period of time.
What are the symptoms?
attack is a discrete episode of intense fear and discomfort, starting
abruptly, with a range of physical symptoms, such as a racing heart,
sweating, shaking, breathing difficulties, chest pain, nausea, dizziness,
numbness and tingling sensations, mainly in the hands. Many of the
physical symptoms are actually secondary effects of hyperventilation
- the fast shallow breathing pattern that mostly accompanies a panic
attack. The person fears losing control and "going mad"
and often has feelings of unreality. Because of the intense physical
symptoms, the person often believes they are having a heart attack
or a stroke. It is a very frightening experience, and can lead to
the sufferer avoiding situations where panic attacks have happened.
This can, secondarily, lead to their suffering from a Phobia.
How long does it last?
attacks vary in frequency and duration. Each episode usually lasts
several minutes, leaving the sufferer feeling “washed out”,
but they can go on for as long as an hour. Attacks can occur daily,
but in some cases are less frequent. While some cases do resolve
spontaneously, without appropriate treatment, a Panic Disorder can
continue indefinitely. A Panic Disorder often becomes more severe
over time due to the sufferer developing a “fear of fear”
and becoming more and more anxious about having attacks, thereby
intensifying their anxiety.
What is the treatment?
treatment of choice is CBT. This involves learning to cope with
anxious catastrophic thoughts, and relaxation techniques, especially
focusing on learning to control breathing, to overcome hyperventilation.
Education about how panic attacks arise is also beneficial as it
offers some basic insight into the mental and physical mechanisms
at work. Given the intensity of the symptoms, anxiolytic medication
(i.e. a minor tranquilliser) is sometimes used, in combination with