Panic Disorder and Panic Attacks – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is caused by panic attacks. When panic attacks occur suddenly, they often trigger severe physical reactions when no real danger is present or an obvious cause is apparent. You might feel very scared during a panic attack.

People who suffer from panic attacks may believe they’re losing control, going through a heart attack, or even going to die. An untreated panic disorder may result in other mental disorders and fears, difficulties at school or work and social isolation.

What is panic disorder?

Panic Disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. People with panic anxiety disorders suffer from recurring incidents of sudden panic attacks. According to the DSM-5, a panic attack is a sudden surge of intense anxiety or discomfort that reaches its peak within minutes.

Those who suffer from the disorder live in fear of panic attacks. If you suddenly feel a sense of overwhelming terror without knowing why you may be experiencing a panic attack. You may also experience physical symptoms, such as sweating, breathing difficulties and racing heart.

Almost everyone experiences panic attacks once or twice in their lifetime. An American Psychological Association study estimates that one in 75 people is affected by panic disorder.

Panic anxiety disorder is characterized by a persistent fear of experiencing another panic attack after you experience an additional panic attack (or any of its consequences) after at least one month.

It is still possible to manage and improve these symptoms, even though they are quite frightening and overwhelming. It is vital to seek treatment to reduce symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Also, check: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Panic attack causes

There is no clear cause of panic disorder. However, there are some factors to consider:

  • Genetics
  • Major stress
  • Stress-prone or emotionally reactive temperament
  • Brain changes in certain ways

Recent research suggests that panic disorders are linked to genetics. A significant life transition can also trigger panic disorders. Life transitions such as moving away to college, getting married, or having a child can exacerbate stress, which can cause panic attacks.

Although some families may suffer from panic disorder, it’s unclear why family members have it and others don’t. Mental Health Professionals have found that multiple brain areas, as well as biological processes, can contribute to fear and anxiety.

It has been noted that people suffering from panic disorder mistake harmless bodily sensations for threats. It may be possible to create better treatments by learning the brain and body functions of panic disorder patients.

Also, check: Major Depression Disorder

Panic disorder symptoms

Panic Disorder Symptoms
Panic Disorder Symptoms

Young adults and teens tend to develop panic disorder symptoms under age 25. If you have experienced two or more two panic attacks, It could be a panic attack or if you constantly fear panic attacks, or you fear having another after having one.

Panic attacks cause intense fear that usually occurs suddenly and without warning. In most cases, an attack lasts between 10 and 20 minutes, but in extreme cases, panic attack symptoms may last up to an hour or more. Symptoms of panic attacks and experiences vary from person to person.

Common symptoms of panic attacks include the following:

  • Palpitations or pounding/racing heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Choking feeling
  • Dizziness (vertigo)
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Sweating or chills
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Psychological changes, such as feelings of depersonalization and derealization.
  • Numbness or tingling in your hands or feet
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Fear of dying
  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of going crazy

The symptoms of panic attacks usually occur without apparent cause. A person’s panic attack symptoms do not necessarily correspond to the danger they face in the environment.

The unpredictable nature of these attacks can adversely affect your functioning. Panic attacks can be caused by fear of another attack or by recalling a previous attack.

Panic attack vs. Panic disorder

An individual with panic disorder will always experience panic attacks. You don’t necessarily have panic disorder if you have a panic attack.

In diagnosing panic disorder, doctors take into account the frequency and amount of panic attacks. It is also important for them to consider your feelings surrounding them.

Panic attacks are common in people’s lives at some point. If you suffer from panic attacks frequently and fear their recurrence, you may have panic disorder.

Risk factors of panic disorder

It is not completely understood why panic disorder occurs. Certain groups may be more prone to develop the disorder, according to information about it, such as panic attacks.

As the National Institute of Mental Health points out, specifically, women have twice as high a risk as men of developing the disorder.

Also, check: Side Effects of Overthinking

Panic disorder diagnosis

If you feel like you are having a panic attack, you may need to seek emergency medical treatment. When someone goes through a panic attack for the first time, they think they’re having a heart attack.

When you visit the emergency room, the medical professional will perform tests to determine that your symptoms are related to a heart attack or not. It might be necessary for them to run blood tests to show that you don’t have another disease that gives similar symptoms or an electrocardiogram (ECG) to determine heart function.

Those with symptoms that are not an emergency will be advised to return to their primary care provider.

A mental health examination may be carried out by your primary care provider who will ask about your symptoms. Primary care providers will rule out all other medical conditions before diagnosing panic disorder.

Related: Phobia Disorder

Panic disorder treatment

Treatment for panic disorder aims to relieve or eliminate your symptoms. This can be achieved with therapy under the supervision of a qualified professional, as well as medication in some cases.

In most cases, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is typically prescribed. CBT therapy helps you manage your fear and understanding of your attacks by changing your thinking and behaviors.

Panic attacks can be treated with medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of antidepressants. The following SSRIs are prescribed to treat panic disorder:

  • Fluoxetine
  • Paroxetine
  • Sertraline

Related: How to Stop a Panic Attack

In addition to medications, the following are sometimes recommended for treating panic attacks:

  • SNRIs, another type of antidepressant, are serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI)
  • Antiseizure drugs
  • Beta-Blockers
  • Benzodiazepines, such as diazepam and clonazepam, are commonly used as tranquilizers
  • Several other antidepressants are used infrequently because of the possibility of serious side effects. One of these is monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)

Besides these medical treatments, you can also take steps at home to reduce your symptoms. Here are some examples:

  • Keeping a regular schedule
  • Exercise regularly
  • Deep breathing
  • Making sure you have enough sleep
  • Caffeine and other stimulants should be avoided

Recommended: Multiple Strategies To Control Overthinking


There is a high degree of treatment available for panic attacks. The embarrassment that many people feel prevents them from seeking help. You may be unable to enjoy life if you don’t treat panic attacks. There are several possible outcomes:

  • Anticipatory anxiety: It is extremely anxiety-provoking to think that you may have a panic attack.
  • Phobias: The fear of something specific is extreme, unreasonable, and referred to as a phobia. Among the most common types of phobias are acrophobia and claustrophobia.
  • Agoraphobia: People with panic disorder are about two-thirds more likely to develop agoraphobia. Anxiety disorders cause people to be afraid of being in situations or places where they might have a panic attack. It is possible to become so paralyzed by fear that you cannot leave your home at all.

Panic attack prevention

Although panic disorder may not be preventable, it may be possible to treat it. Fortunately, you can mitigate your symptoms by avoiding stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol, as well as illegal drugs.

If you experience symptoms of anxiety after a distressing life event, it is important to keep an eye out for those. Consult with your primary care provider if you are concerned about an experience or exposure that you have had.

Read: How to Calm Anxiety Attacks

What to ask your doctor

You can improve your care by providing information and asking questions to your health care provider or doctor. The benefits of talking with your doctor include improved results, safety, quality, and satisfaction.

You can get tips at the website of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.


It is hard to treat panic disorder when it is chronic (long-term).  This disorder can be difficult to treat for some people. There may be times when symptoms are absent and times when symptoms are intense. Symptoms of panic disorder are typically alleviated through treatment.

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