Panic Disorder: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Have you noticed the signs of a panic disorder? (Image via Pexels/ Shvets Production)
Have you noticed the signs of a panic disorder? (Image via Pexels/Shvets Production)

People who suffer from panic disorders usually experience severe, overwhelming, and ongoing worries and fears about commonplace events. Panic disorders differ from anxiety disorders that sometimes entail recurring episodes of acute anxiety, fear, or terror that peak in a matter of minutes.

A minimum of one month of worry about future panic attacks (or their repercussions) qualifies as a panic disorder. A panic attack is an uncontrollable, abrupt feeling of fear or worry that results in physical symptoms, including perspiration, racing heart, and rapid breathing.

Some people experience it as a result of their extreme fear of these attacks. Even though the symptoms can be terrifying and overpowering, they can be controlled and improved with treatment. The most crucial step in lowering symptoms and raising your quality of life is seeking treatment.

Symptoms of a Panic Disorder

Panic attacks and disorders are very common. (Image via Pexels/Ron Lach)
Panic attacks and disorders are very common. (Image via Pexels/Ron Lach)

Patients experiencing a panic attack can mistake it for a heart attack or another serious ailment. As panic attacks can occur anywhere, even in settings where there're no real hazards, they're unpredictable, which adds to the concern about when the next attack could occur.

It's true that various panic attack symptoms may naturally occur concurrently, making it difficult to distinguish between them. For instance, it would be rare for someone to not be trembling while sweating, feeling woozy, and experiencing chills. It's also critical to remember that some of these are mental/emotional symptoms, while others are physical symptoms.

Panic can have many physical side effects. (Image via Pexels/Anna Tarazevich)
Panic can have many physical side effects. (Image via Pexels/Anna Tarazevich)

Depressive disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse disorders are just a few of the mental illnesses that can cause panic attacks.

Such disorders can also occur in the context of a panic disorder, which is essentially characterized by unexpected, recurrent panic attacks that last for two or more. According to the DSM-V, a person must also exhibit persistent worry or a change in behavior as a result of their panic attacks to be diagnosed with a panic disorder.

The effects of any substance, such as an illegal substance or prescription, cannot be the cause of panic episodes. Finally, no other anxiety disorder, such as agoraphobia or social anxiety disorder, provides a better explanation for panic attacks.

Patients with panic disorders can't predict where their next panic attack could occur, so it's crucial to have them treated before they exhibit avoidance, which is when they purposefully stay away from the sites where prior attacks occur. They may quit doing things like going to the park, taking elevators, or driving if they believe they might set off an attack.

Avoiding certain situations makes daily living harder, yet doing so could momentarily lessen anxiety symptoms related to having a panic attack. Eventually, it does not stop the attacks from occurring. Anticipatory anxiety is the term for the anxiety that some patients experience when they merely consider the likelihood of experiencing a panic attack.

What Causes Panic Disorder?

A major genetic component may be seen in panic disorders. (Image via Pexels/Ron Lach)
A major genetic component may be seen in panic disorders. (Image via Pexels/Ron Lach)

Women experience panic disorders twice as frequently as males do. Although their specific etiology is unknown, it does seem to have a genetic component and run in their families.

Doctors are unsure of the specific cause of panic disorder, but one theory is that those who suffer from it may have a particularly sensitive brain that reacts to fear. Panic attacks and phobias, such as claustrophobia and school phobia, are related.

Additionally, there's a theory that suggests panic disorders may result from an excessive sensitivity to carbon dioxide, which causes the brain to believe that you're suffocating.

You may be more susceptible to having a panic disorder:

  • While it's unclear how much is due to your genes or the environment you grew up in, someone in your family has it.
  • High levels of stress
  • Frequent negative emotions or difficulty coping with them

Speak with a healthcare professional if you have panic disorder symptoms. A medical professional may perform a physical examination after hearing about your medical history to make sure your symptoms are not being caused by an unrelated physical issue.

You might be sent to a clinical social worker, psychiatrist, or psychologist. Obtaining a diagnosis, typically from a mental health professional, is the first step in receiving effective therapy.

Psychotherapy (often referred to as 'talk therapy'), medicine, or a combination of the two are typically used to treat panic attacks and disorders. Consult a medical professional to determine the best course of action for you.


Although treatment can assist, it may not be possible to completely cure your panic disorder. Possible treatments include CBT, therapy, reducing life stressors, and taking medication.

Try to be aware of any anxiety symptoms that may appear after a significant life event. If you're troubled by something you went through or were exposed to, think about talking to your family doctor or a mental health specialist.

Janvi Kapur is a counselor with a Master's degree in applied psychology with a specialization in clinical psychology.

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Edited by Bhargav
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