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What Is a Panic Disorder?

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Question: What Is a Panic Disorder?

A panic disorder is an anxiety disorder that is characterized by extreme and frequent panic attacks. The attacks include symptoms such as severe feelings of terror, rapid breathing and rapid heart rate. A person suffering from a panic disorder may experience these attacks unexpectedly and for no apparent reason, but they can also be preceded by some sort of triggering event or situation.

Symptoms of Panic Disorder

  • Feelings of extreme terror that occur suddenly without warning.

  • Panic attack symptoms, including a pounding heart, sweating, trembling, numbness in the hands and feet, dizziness, weakness, chest pain and rapid breathing.

  • During an attack, many people suffering from panic disorder describe feeling as if they are having a heart attack or on the verge of dying.

  • Constant fear that another attack might happen at any time.

  • Behavior changes as a result of having panic attacks, such as avoiding certain situations, areas of objects out of fear that they will trigger another attack.

Panic Disorder Statistics

According to MedicineNet.com, approximately three million American adults (about 1.7 percent of the population) will suffer from a panic disorder during some point in their lives. Women are twice as likely to experience panic disorders as men. While panic disorder can strike at any point in life, it most often begins during late adolescence or early adulthood.

Because panic disorder often leads to individuals avoiding certain situations or objects, it can also lead to phobias. For example, a person suffering from panic disorder might stop leaving home in order to prevent having an attack or losing control in public. In time, this person might develop agorophobia, or a fear of leaving home.

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American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV-TR. 4th ed. Washington, D.C.: 2000.

Dryden-Edwards, R. (2010). Panic disorder. MedicineNet.com. Found online at http://www.medicinenet.com/panic_disorder/article.htm

National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health, NIH Publication No. 95-3879 (1995)

Panic Disorder Symptoms. (2010). PsychCentral. Found online at http://psychcentral.com/disorders/sx28.htm

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  • Panic Disorder Basics
  • What is a Panic Attack?
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Kendra Cherry

Kendra Cherry
Psychology Guide

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