Recovering from Panic Disorder: Understand the Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

By: Suzanne Feinstein, PhD

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One out of ten adults suffer from a panic attack each year, according to WebMD.

While they tend to afflict younger people, they’re by no means exclusive to that demographic. Panic disorder can come at any time, even without an immediate reason.

Are you asking yourself, “What is panic disorder?” Read on to learn more about panic disorder statistics, causes, symptoms, and available treatments.

What Is Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder falls under the broader category of anxiety disorders and affects millions of people worldwide. It’s more than just feeling stressed or anxious. It involves experiencing sudden and overwhelming fear that can strike without warning.

People with panic disorder anticipate and fear the next panic attack, which can significantly impact their daily lives.

Panic Disorder Statistics

Understanding the prevalence of panic disorder can provide insight into the scope of the issue. According to the ADAA, panic disorder affects about six million adults in the United States, making it one of the most common anxiety disorders.

Still, it’s essential to note that these statistics may vary across different regions and populations.

Panic Disorder Causes

The precise origins of panic disorder are not always understood. It’s believed to come from a mixture of genetic, biological, and environmental factors. Anyone with a family history of anxiety disorder may be at a higher risk.

Imbalances in brain chemistry, particularly serotonin and norepinephrine, may contribute to panic disorder.

Panic Disorder Symptoms

Recognizing the symptoms of panic disorder is crucial for early intervention and treatment, as they can often be mistaken for other medical conditions or perceived as isolated episodes of anxiety.

One of the hallmark symptoms is the sudden onset of intense terror or dread. This overwhelming fear can be debilitating and may arise without any apparent trigger.

Another common symptom is rapid heartbeat, known as palpitations. Individuals experiencing a panic attack may feel their hearts racing uncontrollably, which can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and fear.

Shortness of breath or hyperventilation is also frequently reported during panic attacks. This sensation of not being able to catch one’s breath can further escalate panic and contribute to a sense of impending doom.

Chest pain or discomfort is another alarming symptom often associated with panic disorder. Individuals may experience tightness or pressure in their chest, which can mimic the sensations of a heart attack, leading to heightened distress.

Trembling is a physical sign of the intense fear experienced during a panic attack. These involuntary movements can be visible and may worsen as the attack progresses.

Sweating is another common symptom of panic disorder, often occurring as a result of the body’s physiological response to stress. Heavy sweating can contribute to feelings of discomfort and embarrassment during an attack.

Further Panic Attack Symptoms

If the symptoms listed so far do not align with your experience, there are others you should note.

Feeling dizzy or lightheaded is another sensation often reported by individuals during panic attacks. This disorienting feeling can further exacerbate feelings of fear and may contribute to a sense of losing control.

Nausea or abdominal distress can also occur during panic attacks, leading to feelings of discomfort and unease. Individuals may deal with gastrointestinal symptoms like stomach cramps.

One of the most distressing aspects of panic disorder is the fear of losing control or going crazy. Individuals may feel as though they are losing touch with reality or are unable to cope with their emotions, which can intensify feelings of panic.

The fear of dying is a common and understandable response to the intense physical and emotional symptoms experienced during a panic attack. Individuals may genuinely believe that they are in imminent danger of death despite the absence of any real threat.

These symptoms can be so severe that people may feel like they’re having a heart attack. This is true even when there’s no real threat present. Recognizing these symptoms and seeking appropriate support and treatment is essential.

Panic Disorder Treatment

Panic disorder is a treatable health issue, and several options are available. That way, individuals can manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Are you wondering what treatment approaches are possible?

Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is often recommended as the first-line treatment for panic disorder. This type of therapy helps people pinpoint and challenge negative thought patterns and behaviors.

Exposure therapy, a specific form of CBT, is used to gradually expose individuals to situations or stimuli that trigger panic attacks, helping them learn to cope with their anxiety.

Beta-Blockers

Beta-blockers are a class of medications that may be used to dampen or stop physical symptoms of anxiety. Some of the symptoms can include fast heartbeats and trembling.

It’s true that they aren’t often used as a first-line treatment for panic disorder. Still, they may be helpful for individuals who experience significant physical symptoms during panic attacks.

Lifestyle Changes

You may be surprised to learn that healthy lifestyle changes can also play a sizable role in managing panic disorder.

Consistent exercise, proper sleep, and a balanced diet can help cut down on stress and improve your wellbeing. Avoiding caffeine, nicotine, and other stimulants can also help reduce the risk of triggering panic attacks.

Dealing With Stress

Managing stress is a fundamental way of preventing and managing panic disorder. Learning effective stress management techniques and progressive muscle relaxation can help you cope with stress. In turn, this will help reduce the likelihood of experiencing panic attacks.

It’s also important for individuals to identify and avoid triggers that worsen their anxiety. They could be related to work, relationships, or other aspects of everyday life.

It’s Time to Treat Your Panic Disorder

Has a loved one asked you, “What is panic disorder?” With this guide, you can explain the symptoms, treatment, and more.

You can start down the road to recovery by working with the experts at Advanced Behavioral Health. Our licensed and trained team offers evidence-based cognitive behavior therapy. We are results-oriented and goal-directed, and we customize treatment based on how you and your symptoms present.

Are you ready to address the issue of panic disorder and enhance your well-being? Don’t hesitiate to reach out to the Advanced Behavioral Health team today.

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