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Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder in which the person feels a sudden fear and anxiety that is too overwhelming to deal with. These are most often referred to as panic attacks. Persons with panic disorder tend to get panic attacks on a regular basis, sometimes for no apparent reason at all. This can be detrimental not only to the person’s mental health, but also to their physical health.
Can Anyone Have a Panic Attack?
Yes, anyone can have a panic attack. Not everyone that has a panic attack has panic disorder, either. What makes it a disorder is the persistence of symptoms and the ongoing fear of future episodes of panic attacks occurring. Persons with panic disorder will often go out of their way to try and avoid having another panic attack, even though they might still have one. This can make it extremely difficult for them to carry on normal activities in their everyday lives.
Symptoms of panic disorder include a combination of symptoms resulting from panic attacks, as well as the continued persistence or worry of continued panic attacks. The symptoms of panic attacks alone include a rapid heartbeat, shaking or trembling of the body, and excessive dread or worry. When someone is experiencing a panic attack, they might believe that they are having a heart attack, despite the fact that they are not. The physical symptoms of panic attacks can feel so intense and real that the person feels as if they are in immediate danger or need of assistance. Other symptoms that coincide with panic disorder include a persistent fear of another panic attack. So, typically, a person with panic disorder may always be perceived to be “on edge”, because when they are not actually dealing with a panic attack, they are anxious about one coming on. This can make it extremely difficult for them to live functional lives. Not to mention that persistent anxiety and worry is also not good for your physical health. When your body is in a constant state of anxiety, you may be more likely to develop physical problems such as high blood pressure. Having panic disorder can feel like you are in survival mode all the time and never able to calm and rest yourself.
Research suggests that panic disorder might have a genetic predisposition, although if there is a genetic link, not all family members may get the disorder. Typically, certain chemicals in the brain that are responsible for regulation of emotions such as fear and anxiety are not functioning properly, therefore causing the intense symptoms of panic disorder. The GABA receptors in the brain, for instance, may not be running efficiently. GABA is responsible for controlling our sense of calm and anxiety. Adrenaline also plays a role in anxiety. Those with anxiety disorders may have elevated levels of adrenaline and lowered levels of GABA. In addition to these biological factors, panic disorder can also be initiated from stressful environments or events.
Treatment for panic disorder involves a combination of medication and therapy. Typically, medications for panic disorder include antidepressants, beta-blockers, and benzodiazepines. Antidepressants such as SSRIs and SNRIs work by regulating the uptake of certain receptors in the brain, including serotonin for SSRIs and norepinephrine for SNRIs. Beta-blockers, on the other hand, are medications used to stop certain functions from occurring in the event of a panic attack. They reduce symptoms such as increased heart rate and shaking during a panic attack. Similarly, benzodiazepines work as short-term relief from a panic attack, helping to slow down the body’s functioning enough so that the person can calm down. Beta-blockers and benzodiazepines are typically used when needed for a panic attack, while antidepressants are taken daily to help regulate some of the chemicals in the brain to potentially prevent or lessen future panic attacks.
Psychotherapy is also a very valuable and important part of therapy when it comes to panic attacks. Therapists will work with patients to help them identify their triggers for panic attacks and learn how to deal with the symptoms of panic attacks. The idea is, the more a person can recognize what triggers it and what may escalate their symptoms, the better they will be able to control and learn how to best respond when they are having a panic attack. A useful method of therapy that is suggested is usually CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy. This can help the person learn to confront their anxieties and be more open to getting back to a normal life. They will be asked to take charge and do things they have been avoiding in order to learn that they can overcome their fears and continue to live their lives.
Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder that can have a detrimental impact on a person’s health. Aside from the mental symptoms of fear, worry, or dread the person with panic disorder may experience immediate physical symptoms that can be outright terrifying. They may believe they are having a physical medical issue such as a heart attack because of the overpowering physical symptoms that accompany a panic attack. In addition, persons with panic disorder often avoid doing certain things in fear that they will have a panic attack, leading them to put off normal responsibilities such as work, school, or personal relationships for fear that they will panic. Treatment for the disorder entails a balance of medication and therapy, and therapy focuses on helping patients learn to confront their fears and get back to living healthy, normal lives. If you or someone you know may be experiencing panic disorder, seek help from a trusted medical professional immediately. You can also find more information about panic disorder from the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Health) website and the NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) website.
“Panic Disorder: When Fear Overwhelms.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2022, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/panic-disorder-when-fear-overwhelms.
“Anxiety Disorders.” NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2022, https://nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders?gclid=Cj0KCQjwl92XBhC7ARIsAHLl9anRyXXUtg72bK7eULjK9oVEkppU6lzQNmBDbmain0_Qk6Tn4YfYkyIaAqppEALw_wcB.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2022 Anne Marie Carr