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Panic Disorder


What is panic disorder?

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that causes you to have sudden panic attacks. The panic attacks may occur anywhere at any time, even while you are asleep. You may begin to worry when the panic attacks will happen again. Your behavior may change, and you may not want to go out with family and friends.

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is a period of strong fear or discomfort. You may feel as though something very bad is going to happen but do not know what it is. A panic attack occurs suddenly and usually lasts about 10 minutes. It may occur at any time and without warning. You may also have the following symptoms during a panic attack:

  • Fast or pounding heartbeat
  • Sweating, trembling, or shaking
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Feeling of choking or having a lump in your throat
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal pain
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
  • Feeling that you or the things around you are not real, or you are outside of your body
  • Fear of losing control, going crazy, or dying
  • Numbness or a tingling feeling
  • Chills or hot flushes

What causes or increases my risk of panic disorder?

No one knows for sure what causes panic disorder. You may have an increased risk of panic disorder if other family members have it. The following may also increase your risk:

  • Stressful events such as severe illness or injury, death of a loved one, or childhood trauma such as physical or sexual abuse
  • Chronic medical conditions such as asthma, lung disease, irritable bowel syndrome, heart problems, or thyroid disease
  • Other mental health conditions such as depression or another type of anxiety disorder
  • Overprotective parents or parents who worry too much about their own health
  • Drug or alcohol abuse

How is panic disorder diagnosed and treated?

Your healthcare provider will ask you how bad, how often, and in what situations your panic attacks occur. He may also want to know if other family members have panic disorder or other mental health conditions. He may also ask how well you are doing in school or work, or with your daily activities. You may be treated with any of the following:

  • Medicines , such as antianxiety and antidepressants, may be given to treat panic disorder. You may need to take antidepressants for several weeks before you begin to feel better. Tell your healthcare provider about any side effects or problems you have with your medicine. Sometimes the type or amount of medicine may need to be changed.
  • Therapy may be used to treat panic disorder. A therapist will help you learn to cope with your thoughts and feelings. This can be done alone or in a group. It may also be done with family members or a significant other.

How can I manage panic disorder?

  • Keep a diary of your panic attacks. Write down how often you have panic attacks, how long they last, and the symptoms you had. Write down whether or not there was anything that happened right before the panic attack. Write down whether there were things that helped to ease or stop your panic attack. Bring your diary with you every time you see your healthcare provider.
  • Avoid foods and drinks that have caffeine. These may include coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, and chocolate.
  • Avoid or limit alcohol. Ask your healthcare provider how much alcohol is safe for you to drink. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.
  • Get regular physical activity. Exercise can help decrease stress and anxiety. Talk to your healthcare provider before you start to exercise. Together you can plan the best exercise program for you.
  • Manage your stress. Learn ways to control stress, such as relaxation or deep breathing. Talk to someone about things that upset you.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have new symptoms since you last saw your healthcare provider.
  • Your worry keeps you from doing daily tasks such as work or caring for yourself or your family.
  • Your symptoms are getting worse.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You feel lightheaded, too dizzy to stand up, or you faint.
  • You feel like harming yourself.
  • You have chest pain, tightness, or heaviness that spreads to your shoulders, arms, jaw, neck, or back.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Panic Disorder

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