Panic Disorder – Overview of Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

Panic disorder is a psychological condition that is characterized by repetitive panic attacks. The main symptom of panic disorder is panic attack which is a random wave of intense and overwhelming fear and anxiety that last for a few minutes to an hour.

Understanding Panic Disorder

In a huge number of cases, panic episodes strike out of the blue, without a warning. A panic attack is random and thus it happens anywhere at any time, without provocation. It could even happen when a patient is at sleep.

Panic attack, in a number of cases, is a one-time event although in the majority of incidents, it is a repetitive cycle. People who have experienced a panic attack before are more likely to experience them again. Usually, panic episodes happen in specific situations where they have first manifest or under circumstances that make it very likely to occur such as crowded places and situations where escape may be difficult or impossible.

People who are experiencing panic attacks, despite having the condition, are otherwise physically healthy but not necessarily perfectly healthy. However, panic disorder often accompanies other psychological disorders or concerns such as phobias, depression and anxiety disorders.


A person experiencing a panic episode have difficulty breathing, feels dizzy, has irregular heartbeat, is sick to the stomach and may have symptoms similar to those experienced by people having a heart attack. Most patients describe the symptoms as having an overwhelming sense of going crazy or an impending doom. No wonder, it is often described as among the most intensely terrifying experience a person could live through.

A full-blown panic attack and disorder includes a combination of the following symptoms:

Physical: Shortness of breath or hypoventilation, feeling of being choked, chest pain or discomfort, upset stomach, shaking or trembling, hot or cold flushes, and tingling sensations throughout the body.

Psychological: Sense of going crazy, of dying or of being 'spaced out', sense of losing control, and unrealistic feeling throughout the body.

You may be dealing with the condition if you:

Have had a panic attack at least once.

Worry excessively about an impending episode of panic attack.

Modify your behavior as result of fear or anxiety over experiencing a panic episode.


The exact causes of panic disorder are not yet identified. However, experts agree that it runs in the family, it is directly linked to major circumstances in one's life and is deeply rooted in traumatic experiences. It may also root from specific medical conditions such as hyperthyroidism, hypoglycemia, use of substances, withdrawal from medications and mitral valve prolapse.

Treatments for Panic Disorder

There are treatment and therapy options for panic disorder. Among the therapy that produce the best results are:

Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT – This is possibly the best treatment for panic disorder and is often used for treatment of phobia, anxiety disorder and other forms of phobia. This therapy method focuses on fixing the patterns of behavior and thinking that provoke and sustain a panic attack. It lets patients to view their fears and anxieties in a more realistic light.

Exposure therapy – This is a technique that tries to simulate the actual conditions that trigger an attack in a controlled environment. The objective of this therapy is to help patients form healthier coping mechanisms they could use when an actual attack happens outside of a controlled environment.

Other options for treating panic disorder include use of medications and self-help techniques.