Panic disorder is characterized by sudden attacks of intense fear and terror. These attacks happen unexpectedly and usually last for at least 10 minutes, but can go on for an hour or more. Often, the experience of a panic attack will create additional fear of the episode happening again, adding to the severity of the disorder. During a panic attack, a person may feel as if he or she is having a heart attack or 'going crazy.'
Symptoms of Panic Disorder
Panic disorder causes a wide array of symptoms, depending upon the individual and severity of the attack. These symptoms are often shared with numerous other mental disorders, so additional evaluations should be performed before making a diagnosis. Usually, someone suffering an episode or panic attack will experience at least 4 of the following:
- Chest tightness or pain and heart palpitations
- Feelings of choking or shortness of breath
- Numbness or tingling in the arms, hands, legs or feet
- Nausea or gastrointestinal problems
- Fear of dying
- Fear of losing control
- Detached feelings
- Cold sweats or hot flashes
- Violent shaking or trembling
Causes of Panic Disorder
The true cause of panic disorder is not known. Much research has been done to discover possible events and circumstances which may lead to the development of this mental illness. As with most mental disorder, genetics and family history can play a role. Because of similar symptoms, medical advice may be sought for heart problems. If no physical ailments are found, panic disorder may be a possibility. Chemical imbalance in the brain may also cause any number of mental illnesses. Witness to a traumatic event in childhood or early adulthood may lead to symptoms, however, many times the disorder develops with no recollection of any triggering events.
Diagnosing Panic Disorder
Once physical ailments have been ruled out, a psychiatrist or psychologist may be referred. An evaluation will be performed, usually seeking answers to questions regarding family history, life events and type of lifestyle. Behavior will also be evaluated to help determine what the symptoms may signify. Since drug abuse can often lead to identical symptoms, this possibility may need to be ruled out. Due to the nature and severity of symptoms, a patient will often visit the emergency room and potentially be given one or more misdiagnoses before learning the potential for panic disorder.
Treatment for Panic Disorder
There are many ways to treat panic disorder, both using traditional medication or alternative and holistic options. Treatment will vary by individual, based on preference, severity of symptoms and current lifestyle habits. If drug abuse is involved, rehabilitation will likely begin the process. Of the many choices for treatment of panic disorder, a combination of two or more options may be of most benefit to the patient.
- Medical treatments, including those with prescription medications, can lessen symptoms and chance for sudden panic to arise.
- Counseling by a licensed therapist can lead the patient to discovery of new coping skills and development of strategies to avoid situations that may lead to symptoms.
- Creating awareness of potential triggers by journaling or similar activities may lead to methods of prevention.
- Positive changes to diet and the addition of a daily exercise routine can help any chemical imbalance that may be present in the brain by replenishing a vitamin or mineral deficiency.
- Meditation or other alternative therapies may bring about healing on an emotional and physical level.
- Joining a support group with others who experience symptoms of panic disorder can assist feelings of isolation or helplessness.