Updated on April 23, 2024
4 min read

Panic Disorder: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

A panic attack feels like a surge of intense fear⁠—your heart is pounding, and you’re unable to catch your breath. There's no clear reason why.

Panic attacks are the hallmark of Panic Disorder. This anxiety disorder isn't just about feeling stressed. It's unpredictable episodes of overwhelming terror that strike without warning.

They can be incredibly frightening and disrupt your life. You might start avoiding places or activities where you fear another attack might happen. It's important to understand that Panic Disorder is a real and treatable medical condition.

Why Knowing About Panic Disorder Matters

Millions of people experience panic disorder. It affects more women than men, and it can happen at any age, including in teenagers.

Panic attacks aren't just a brief inconvenience. They can severely impair your life at home, work, and in relationships.

With a proper diagnosis and treatment, most people with Panic Disorder can regain a sense of control and reduce the frequency or severity of their attacks.

Signs and Symptoms of Panic Disorder

Panic attacks, the core feature of Panic Disorder, are sudden, intense bursts of fear and physical discomfort that come on without warning. While everyone experiences fear sometimes, a panic attack is far more extreme.

Here's what might happen during a panic attack:

  • Overwhelming fear that can show up as a sense of impending doom, fear of losing control, or even a fear of dying.
  • Racing heart, pounding chest
  • Sweating, trembling, or chills
  • Shortness of breath or feeling like you're choking
  • Nausea, dizziness, or feeling faint
  • Numbness, tingling, or feeling detached

Panic attacks often intensify within minutes. They can vary in how long they last and what symptoms are strongest. Sometimes, they can even mimic symptoms of conditions like heart problems.

It's vital to see a doctor to rule out other causes. People with Panic Disorder often worry intensely about having another attack. This leads to avoiding places or activities and impacting their lives.

While panic attacks aren't dangerous in themselves, they're incredibly frightening and difficult to manage alone. Seeking professional help is the first step to understanding and overcoming Panic Disorder.

Triggers of Panic Attacks in Panic Disorder

Why panic attacks happen in Panic Disorder is complex, but here are some common factors:

  • A family history of panic attacks
  • Brain chemistry
  • Major life stress, trauma, or big life changes
  • Being naturally more sensitive to stress or negative emotions
  • The fear of having another attack

Panic attacks can be part of other mental health conditions or be triggered by certain medications or substances. Sadly, many panic attacks have no obvious trigger, making Panic Disorder especially difficult.

A key part of treatment is working with a professional to identify your specific triggers when possible and develop coping strategies.


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What Are the Treatment Options for Panic Disorder?

Panic Disorder is treatable, and the goal is to reduce the number of panic attacks you experience and help you manage the fear they cause.  Here are the most common approaches:

1. Psychotherapy

CBT is considered the gold standard of psychotherapy. A therapist will help you identify thought patterns and behaviors that trigger attacks and teach you how to change them.

2. Medications

Several types of medication can be effective for Panic Disorder:

  • SSRIs and SNRIs: These antidepressants are usually the first choice due to their safety and effectiveness in managing panic symptoms.
  • Benzodiazepines: Fast-acting sedatives for immediate relief, but generally used short-term due to addiction risk.
  • Other Options: In some cases, older antidepressants or other medications might be prescribed.

3. Lifestyle Changes and Self-Care

These are crucial alongside therapy and medication:

  • Manage Stress: Techniques like meditation, breathing exercises, and relaxation can make a big difference.
  • Exercise Regularly: This is a natural mood booster and anxiety reducer.
  • Avoid Triggers: Limit caffeine and alcohol, and get enough sleep, as these can worsen anxiety for many people.

4. Additional Support

Panic Disorder doesn't have to control your life. Effective treatment options exist, and a combination often works best. Work with a mental health professional to create a personalized plan that may include therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes.

Finding the right treatment approach may take some time. Work closely with your doctor to create a plan that combines the strategies that work best for you.

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Updated on April 23, 2024

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