Panic disorder is characterized by sudden and recurrent panic attacks.
Panic attacks are experienced as intense states of anxiety in the mind, with great fear (psychological symptoms), often accompanied by palpitations, sweating, or churning sensations in the abdomen (physiological symptoms).
Panic attacks may occur in combination with agoraphobia. There is often a persistent fear over the potential to have future panic attacks (anticipatory anxiety)
The peak age of onset of panic disorder is early adulthood. It is more prevalent in women than in men. The cause of panic disorder is thought to be multifaceted, with both genetic and environmental influences.
Symptoms can persist for many years affecting all domains of life. It can also be a cause or effect of depressive disorders. Pathological coping strategies may include abuse of alchohol or drugs.
It is important to have a thorough evaluation of the person, as early diagnosis improves outcomes and long term prognosis. An assessment would involve consdertation of both psychological and physical causes of panic disorders, such as thyroid or other endocrine abnormalities.
Once diagnosed the treatment may involve a combination of psychological or medical interventions.
Psychotherapy can involve Cogntiive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) with an experienced therapist to help manage and extinguish the anxiety response.
Medications may include antidepressants such as SSRIs. If symptoms are severe, short term treatment with benzodiazepines may be required. This would require careful monitoring by an experienced psychiatrist.
Panic disorder is a treatable condition. Early intervention can result in improved quality of life and overall prognosis.