The primary feature of Panic Disorder is the experience of unexpected panic attacks (a combination of physical symptoms of distress and fears about health). Often, a person experiencing their first panic attack will go to an emergency room for fear of having a heart attack. That gives an indication of how intense the physical symptoms of panic disorder can be. Panic Disorder occurs for 2-3% of adolescents and adults and females are much more likely to experience this disorder than males (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). With age of onset typically in the early 20's (American Psychiatric Association, 2013), the post-high school and college-aged population is a prime target. Symptoms may include any combination of the following:
- Increase pulse
- Shaking or trembling
- Difficulties breathing or heaviness in chest area
- Choking sensation
- Chest pain/discomfort
- Stomach issues including nausea
- Dizziness or feeling light-headed/faint
- Feeling hot or cold (not related to temperature)
- Feeling of unreality or detachment
- Fear of losing mental control
- Fear of dying
(American Psychiatric Association, 2013). The frequency of panic attacks may vary from person to person and can occur once per month to several per week and usually last 15-30 minutes. There tends to be a worry about panic attacks and a resulting change in behavior (e.g., avoiding places or behaviors associated with panic attacks) (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Many people with Panic Disorder also experience Agoraphobia as a strategy to avoid places that might cause panic attacks. Treatment for Panic Disorder is usually successful and involves learning the process of panic attacks, physical relaxation strategies (e.g., deep breathing exercises), and mental relaxation strategies (e.g., meditation).
If you experience these symptoms on a regular basis and would like professional assessment and treatment, give me a call to schedule your first appointment.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.