Panic disorder is a condition characterized by unprovoked panic attacks. A panic attack is a sudden rush of fear along with four of more distinct physical symptoms. Individuals who have repeated panic attacks—or have had only a few but who live in constant fear of having another—may be suffering from panic disorder.
A panic attack is far more intense than the feeling of being "stressed out" that most people experience. Panic disorder affects about 2.4 million Americans each year. It usually appears during a person's teens or early adulthood but can happen at any stage of life. The experience can be so frightening that many people visit an emergency room.
Symptoms of panic disorder
The following symptoms are typical of someone experiencing a panic attack:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain/tightness
- Nausea or upset stomach
- Choking sensation
- Sense of impending doom
- Fear of dying
- Fear of going crazy
- Racing/pounding heart
- Trembling or shaking
- Dreamlike sensations
- Terror that feels almost paralyzing
Panic disorder with agoraphobia
Agoraphobia describes behavior in which a person avoids certain situations or places for fear of suffering a panic attack. This behavior often results after someone has had a panic attack in a setting where escape might be difficult or embarrassing, and immediate help may not be available. A few common examples include:
- Sitting in a restaurant
- Being in a crowded store
- Standing in line
- Being on a bridge
- Staying home alone
People with agoraphobia will avoid these potentially panic-inducing situations, or if they must, endure them with significant distress or anxiety about having a panic attack. They often need a companion or "support person" when away from home. In the most severe cases, an agoraphobic person's "safety zone" gradually narrows and the pattern of avoidance may reach the point where the individual is unable to leave home.
Panic disorder self assessment quick quiz
Take a moment to answer these quick questions and see if you're at risk for—or currently suffering from—panic disorder:
- During the past month, have you experienced a sudden, unexplained attack of intense fear, anxiety or panic? If yes:
- Were you afraid you would have more of these attacks?
- Were you worried that these attacks meant you were losing control, having a heart attack, or going crazy?
- Did these attacks cause changes or avoidance patterns in your behavior?
- Did the sensations of anxiety or panic lead to fear of situations or places where help or escape may be difficult?
- Are you unable to be alone or travel without a companion?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, there's a chance you're suffering from panic disorder. To learn how the Panic/Anxiety/Recovery Center can help you, or to schedule a consultation, please call us at 312-642-7952 or fill out our contact form.