What is Panic Disorder?
Fear is a natural emotion that serves an important biological purpose. While having some anxiety is good, having too much can interfere with daily life. When overwhelming and inexplicable attacks of fear take over your life, this may cross into the territory of anxiety. One relatively common condition is panic disorder. What is panic disorder? Let’s find out.
Panic Disorder Explained
Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by unexpected panic attacks. According to the DSM-5, the official diagnostics manual for psychological disorders, panic attacks are characterized as abrupt surges of intense fear, and a number of physiological symptoms accompany these attacks.
What Are the Symptoms?
These unexpected panic attacks are a key symptom of panic disorder. While panic attacks can occur in many other conditions or circumstances, when you have unexplained panic attacks, you may be suffering from panic disorder.
Panic attacks involve sudden episodes of fear when victims often state they are spiraling or feel like they are going to die. While panic attacks in themselves are not abnormal or a reason for alarm, when you have them regularly and live in fear of having an unexpected panic attack in public, it causes reason for concern.
Some physiological symptoms of panic attacks include things such as:
- Heart palpitations
- Heart racing
- Breathing difficulties
- Chest tightness
Everyone experiences panic attacks differently, and it is important to keep this in mind. While many disorders involve recurrent panic attacks, this disorder specifically involves a recurrent and intrusive concern that you will have another panic attack, to the point where it interferes with your life.
If you begin to avoid public places or social activities out of fear of having a panic attack, it is time to reach out to a medical professional. It’s normal to worry about the consequences of public panic attacks, but when they prevent you from going to school, meeting friends, or performing daily activities, you need to seek help.
What Are the Causes of Panic Disorder?
Unfortunately, researchers have yet to determine a definite cause. More studies are being conducted to investigate potential risk factors or underlying genetic markers. There are some populations more vulnerable to diagnoses. Women, for example, are more likely than men to suffer from panic disorder.
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How Do I Get a Diagnosis for Panic Disorder?
In order to receive an official diagnosis and obtain a treatment plan, you need to visit a mental health professional. Often, this means seeing a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. Your primary care physician can direct you to the appropriate medical help.
Diagnosing this involves several different tests. Like many mental health conditions, there is no simple swab or blood test that can let you know you have it. Instead, you need to undergo a psychological evaluation where you will discuss your symptoms, life situation, and family history.
You will also need to complete a full physical examination, which may involve blood tests or heart tests (like an electrocardiogram (ECG/ EKG). These tests are necessary to eliminate other possible causes.
How is Panic Disorder Treated?
There are several different approaches for treating panic disorder. In terms of therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a classic technique used to treat many mental health conditions. It aims to restructure how you approach certain situations and cultivate a healthy thought process. CBT may be used in combination with other therapy techniques such as art therapy, breathing exercises, or group therapy.
In some cases, a mental health professional may advise pharmaceutical interventions. There are many different medications one may be prescribed. These include:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
Medication may be used regularly or only in select events. Patients should not rely on medication alone as therapy is crucial for long-term recovery.
Always talk with your medical health professional whenever you have any questions or concerns. Panic disorder is not a disease that simply appears overnight, and it may take some time for treatments to make an impact. It also may take some trial and error to find a treatment that is right for you.