Overview and Facts
It’s a condition in which people experience unexpected panic attacks that occur for no apparent reason--sometimes even during sleep. Sufferers often become preoccupied with the worry or fear of repeated attacks and change certain behaviors as a result (i.e., avoiding a place where a panic attack occurred).
Panic disorders may be associated with abnormal activity in the amygdala, a relatively small structure located deep inside the brain. People who are prone to anxiety are more likely to develop panic disorder as are those who have undergone recent adverse life events (a death in the family, for example) or been exposed to high stress situations in their work or personal lives.
Generally, a person must experience an ongoing worry about having a panic attack or the imagined outcome of having a panic attack (i.e., loss of control, feeling like you’re going “crazy”). Sufferers may also avoid behaviors they perceive are related to previous attacks, such as being in unfamiliar situations.
At least four of the following symptoms must occur during an episode to be considered an actual panic attack:
- pounding heart, heart palpitations, or accelerated heart rate
- body shaking or trembling
- shortness of breath
- feeling like choking
- chest pain/discomfort
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- fear of dying or sense of impending doom
- feeling detached from reality
- hot flashes or chills
- sensations of numbness or tingling.
People who experience a panic attack once, or even twice, during their lifetime most likely do not have panic disorder. Again, panic disorder is marked by recurring and unexpected panic attacks accompanied by changes in behavior in response to--or in anticipation of--such attacks.
Panic Disorder can often be successfully treated with psychotherapy (talk therapy with a trained provider) or a combination of psychotherapy and medication.