A panic disorder is a type of Anxiety Disorder. When a person has a panic disorder they often experience periods of intense anxiety or fear that may be referred to as Panic Attacks. These feelings of anxiety are usually accompanied by at least 5 of the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Tightness or chest pain
- Trembling or shaking
- A sense of unreality
- Dry mouth
- Muscle tension
- Difficulty gathering thoughts or speaking
- Pounding/racing heart
- Tingling in the hands or feet
- Choking or smothering sensation
- Hot or cold flashes
- Urge to flee/escape
- Nausea or “butterflies” in stomach
- Blurred vision
- Fear of dying, losing control or going “crazy”
Panic attacks can range from mild to extremely severe. A panic attack may last anywhere from a few minutes to twenty minutes, with the peak of the attack usually occurring between the fifth and tenth minutes. In mild cases, the attacks are sporadic and do not greatly interfere with the person’s daily routine.
In very severe cases, panic attacks can occur over and over again during the day and/or night, so that the person may feel that he/she is in a constant state of panic. Usually, a panic attack is like a wave: it starts fairly low, then rises, peaks and then subsides. Panic attacks can be very frightening and disturbing. It is important to know that one panic attack does not mean someone has panic disorder. Only recurring panic attacks may lead to this diagnosis.
There are three common complications of panic disorder. The first complication is Anticipatory Anxiety. Because panic attacks are often very unpleasant and frightening, a person may develop an Anticipatory Anxiety. This means that they may feel anxious about the next panic attack, that may or may not come, during times when they do not experience a full blown attack. In other words, they become anxious because they anticipate that they will have to experience another panic attack.
The second possible complication of panic disorder is called Agoraphobia. The term comes from Latin and is actually a two-word expression: Agora means market place and Phobia mean fear. Thus, the word Agoraphobia means “a fear of the market place”. The condition involves a fear of crowded places or any place outside of the home. People who have experienced panic attacks may avoid situations that they believe may bring about an attack. For example, if the initial panic attack occurred in a mall or a supermarket, the person may avoid going to such places in the hope of avoiding a panic attack. Avoidance behavior may exacerbate the anxiety in the long run by feeding into it, and may also create a dependency on other people (see case example).
The third possible complication of panic disorder is Depression. When someone experiences recurrent panic attacks, their quality of life is adversely affected. People who have panic disorder may develop a negative view of themselves and their ability to cope. They may view themselves as weak in character and think of themselves as “crazy” or inherently flawed. These beliefs may result in feelings of self-loathing, helplessness and/or hopelessness, which, if remain untreated, may lead to Depression. All three possible complications highlight why it is extremely important for people with Panic Disorder to get treatment as soon as possible.
For more information, contact Dr Regev at her Vancouver office on West Broadway Tel: 604-671-7356 Email: email@example.com