Panic Disorder

Panic disorder or panic attack is described as sudden intense fear which  comes completely out of the blue and has no apparent cause. This intense fear  usually subsides fairly quickly, sometimes lasting only a couple of minutes (it  will seem to be a lot longer) although an attack can return in waves during the  couple of hours following the initial attack.

Here is a list of possible symptoms which may occur during the actual panic  attack:
• Feeling faint or dizzy
• Shortness of breath
• Sweating
• Shaking or trembling
• Pain in the chest
• Pounding heart
• Nausea/sickness
• Fear of losing control
• Thoughts of dying
• Tingling  or numbness of the extremities
• Feeling hot/cold alternatively
• Choking
• Feeling unreal

In a full blown panic attack you would experience at least four, usually  more, of the above symptoms. If you only experience one or two of these symptoms  then a doctor may say you have had a limited symptom panic attack which may or  may not lead on to a full blown attack.

A diagnosis of panic disorder would be given if you have two or more panic  attacks followed by constant worry of experiencing another attack.

There is no way to predict when an attack will next occur, you may have one  or two attacks and then be panic free for months or even years or the initial  attacks may be followed by recurring attacks which are sufficiently severe and  happen consistently enough to push you into seeking treatment for the condition  from your doctor/physician.

A diagnosis of panic disorder is only made after a number of tests and  investigations rule out medical causes. If you complain of palpitations and  shortness of breath then an EKG and other tests may be carried out to make  certain that you are not suffering a cardiac illness. Other possible medical  causes may be hyperthyroidism, hypoglycaemia, perhaps a reaction to an excess  intake of caffeine or maybe withdrawal from alcohol or drugs.

The cause of your panic disorder could be due to a number of things, either a  single reason or a combination of situations occurring together. Panic disorder  can be due to a chemical imbalance in the brain, personal stress issues or  heredity.

Current treatment for panic disorder is a combination of the following:

• Medication: commonly SSRI’s (such as Paxil and Zoloft) and benzodiazepines  (Ativan and Valium)

• Lifestyle changes: i.e. regular exercise, cutting down/out stimulants and  sugar etc

• Relaxation: abdominal breathing exercises and total muscle relaxation

• Panic-control: eliminate disastrous thoughts

• Desensitization: exposure to unpleasant symptoms

Panic disorder tends to develop during the teenage years or early twenties  and can in extreme cases be a lifelong condition. We should not be discouraged  though as often it will leave us as quickly as it came and as shown above there  are many ways of treating and living with panic disorder.

It does not have to control our lives.

© Andrew Tudor Jones