Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent and unexpected panic attacks. A panic attack is a sudden surge of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within a few minutes and often includes physical and psychological symptoms. These symptoms can be extremely distressing and may mimic those of a heart attack or other serious medical conditions.
Typically, panic attacks involve a combination of the following symptoms:
- Heart palpitations or accelerated heart rate.
- Trembling or shaking.
- Shortness of breath or feeling smothered.
- Feelings of choking.
- Chest pain or discomfort.
- Nausea or abdominal distress.
- Dizziness or lightheadedness.
- Feelings of unreality or detachment from oneself.
- Fear of losing control or going crazy.
- Fear of dying.
- Numbness or tingling sensations.
Individuals with panic disorder often worry about when the next panic attack will occur and may make significant changes in their behavior to avoid places or situations where previous attacks have happened. This avoidance behavior can lead to the development of agoraphobia, which is an intense fear of being in places or situations where escape might be difficult or embarrassing if a panic attack were to occur.
The exact cause of panic disorder is not fully understood, but it is believed to involve a combination of genetic, biological, and environmental factors. It may also be related to imbalances in brain chemicals and areas of the brain responsible for regulating fear and anxiety.
Panic disorder can be a debilitating condition, but it is treatable. Psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and medication, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or benzodiazepines, are commonly used to manage and alleviate symptoms. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of panic disorder, it is essential to seek professional help from a mental health provider for proper evaluation and treatment.