Panic disorder is an illness characterized by sudden attacks of terror. These episodes are usually accompanied by:

• A pounding heart
• Sweatiness
• Weakness
• Faintness
• Dizziness

During the attack, people may flush or feel chilled. Hands may tingle or feel numb. Nausea, chest pain or smothering sensations may also be present.

Panic attacks usually create a sense of unreality or a fear of something awful about to happen and even fear of losing control. Another symptom of panic disorder may be fear of one’s own unexplained physical symptoms.

People who experience panic attacks sometimes think they are having an heart attack, losing their minds, or just about to die. There is no clue as to when or where an attack will occur. Between episodes many people worry intensely and dread the next attack. They can occur at any time. Panic attacks also occur during sleep. An attack usually is at its worst within about 10 minutes; however, some symptoms may last much longer.

Panic disorder affects about 6 million American adults. It is twice as common in women as in men. They often begin in late adolescence or early adulthood. Not everyone who experiences “panic attacks” will develop the actual disorder. It is common for many people to have just one episode and never have another. The chance of developing panic attacks appears to be inherited.

Full-blown, repeated panic attacks can become very disabling to those experiencing them. Treatment should begin before the person begins to avoid places or situations where they have occurred. People who have repeated attacks in an elevator, for example, may develop a fear of elevators that would affect the choice of a job or place to live causing unnecessary restrictions upon the person.

Some people’s lives become so restricted by panic disorder that they avoid normal activities like grocery shopping or driving a car. Approximately one-third become housebound or unable to confront a feared situation only when accompanied by a spouse or other trusted person. This progressed condition is called “agoraphobia,” or fear of open spaces. Early treatment of panic disorder can often prevent agoraphobia.

It is common for people to go from doctor to doctor for years and be in emergency rooms repeatedly before someone correctly diagnoses the condition. This is very unfortunate. Panic disorder is one of the most treatable of all the anxiety disorders. It often responds to certain kinds of medicines or certain kinds of cognitive psychotherapy that helps change thinking patterns that lead to fear and anxiety.

This disorder is often accompanied by other serious problems such as:

• Drug abuse
• Or alcoholism

All the above conditions need to be treated separately. Symptoms of depression include:

• Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
• Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
• Low energy
• Difficulty concentrating

Depression can be effectively treated with antidepressants, certain types of psychotherapy or a combination of both.

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information in this article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. All health concerns should be addressed by a qualified health care professional.

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© 2007 Connie Limon All Rights Reserved

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