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  Panic disorder

Panic disorder is also known as panic attack which is characterized as an anxiety disorder with occurrence of recurrent episodes of unexpected and intense fear. This is accompanied by physical symptoms that may include chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal upset. People who have panic disorder tend to have repeated attacks or feelings of a severe form of anxiety about having another attack in the near future.

Panic disorder
Panic disorder


The exact cause of panic disorder is unknown. Even those who have no family history develop it. However, it has been shown that patients with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have a much higher rate to develop panic disorder than the rest of the population.

Stressful life events, environmental factors, physical illness, certain medications and an exaggerated way of thinking and physically reacting to major stress are believed to be some biological factors that play a role in triggering the development of panic disorder.

People who are overwhelmed with heavy and big responsibilities and those with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia may develop a tendency to suffer from panic attacks. Metabolic endocrine disease like hypoglycemia or a very low blood sugar may also cause panic attacks. In this condition, the insulin receptors are resistant and do not respond normally to the action of the insulin hormone produced by the beta cells of the islets of langerhans found in the pancreas hence, interfers with the transport of glucose across the cell membranes for its proper utilization.

People with panic disorder have extreme feelings of fear that occur suddenly and repeatedly without any warning signs. Symptoms during an acute attack of panic disorder include heart pounding, diaphoresis (excessive or profuse sweating), body weakness, nausea and fainting or dizzy spells. Sometimes there is facial flushing with body chills and the extremities especially the hands may feel numb with tingling sensations also called paresthesias. Other associated symptoms of panic attacks are chest pain, sense of unreality and fear of impending doom and when this happen, patients tend to lose control over themselves.

The duration of the panic attack may lasts for several minutes and this particular time is one of the most distressing situation a person can suffer. In some cases, panic attacks have been known to last for longer periods of time with a tendency to increase in severity, recur very quickly and more frequently.

Treatment for panic disorder produces good results using a combination of anxiolytics, antidepressants and cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy. In 6 to 8 weeks, improvement may be evident in most patients. Daily intake of antidepressants and drugs for anxiety also known as anxiolytics reduces the repeated occurrence of panic attacks. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy which teaches people about how to think appropriately to interrupt the thought process in anticipation of the negative thoughts even prior to the onset of symptoms of panic attack. The patient must be able to demonstrate the proper way on how to break the vicious cycle of the psychological connection between a specific phobia and panic attacks aside from the help of the abovementioned medications.

Without treatment, panic disorder may persist for months or even for several years. The severity of symptoms may increase up to the point where the person's life is seriously affected by panic attacks. As a matter of fact, a lot of patients with severe forms of panic disorder had conflicts with friends and family members as they struggle in coping up with this psychiatric disease.

Other diseases associated with panic disorder are major and minor depression, alcoholism and drug addiction (e.g. cocaine or marijuana). Patients had the tendency to resort to substance abuse to alleviate the angst and distressing symptoms they suffer every time they had a panic attack. A more controversial issue under research is the increasing frequency of suicidal attempts in patients with panic disorder most probably explained by accompanying depressive symptoms such as hopelessness and helplessness with feelings of impending doom. The greatest fear among patients with this condition is that the panic attack will recur repeatedly, making their lives too miserable and uncomfortable.

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