What is panic disorder?
People with Panic Disorder (PD) experience unexpected and recurring panic attacks: that is, an intense period of fear that starts suddenly and peaks within 10 minutes.
People who have panic attacks usually describe having their first attack 'out of the blue', without any apparent cause.
Others may experience panic attacks in a way that can be predicted if they tend to occur in specific situations or places. This usually happens when the person has a specific fear of that situation or place: for example, a fear of spiders, or having social anxiety (if confined to social situations).
What are the symptoms of panic disorder?
People having panic attacks may experience either some or most of the following symptoms:
- Dizziness or feeling faint
- Choking sensations
- Racing heart
- Nausea or butterflies
- Numbness or tingling
- Hot flushes or cold chills
- Shaking or trembling
- Fear of dying or losing control
- Fear of detachment or unreality
People with PD experience considerable distress during panic attacks. They can develop strong fears and anxieties about having more panic attacks, leading to significant behaviour change. This can include repeated avoidance of situations often develops into agoraphobia: the inability to go outside of known and safe surroundings because of intense fear and anxiety.
People with agoraphobia avoid situations where escape might be difficult or help is unavailable in the event of having a panic attack. The majority of people with agoraphobia also have PD, but some do not and have never had a panic attack.
Who gets panic disorder?
People often develop PD after a stressful life event. The symptoms usually begin suddenly, from mid to late twenties, although they can also begin in childhood or adulthood. Around 3 in 100 adults (2.6%) develop PD every year.
PD also often occurs alongside depression and substance abuse.
Treatment for Panic Disorder
There are effective treatments available for Panic Disorder. For most, psychological treatments are effective. Education and relaxation training can also be effective. In very severe cases treatment may also include medication taken under the guidance of a medical practitioner.
Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is an effective structured psychological treatment for PD. CBT for PD involves learning about panic, learning about effective relaxation techniques, and teaching you how to identify and challenge the unhelpful thoughts that may contribute to anxiety and avoidance.
Where can I receive treatment for panic disorder?
There are a number of ways you can access psychological treatment for PD and you can choose a way that works best for you. This can be in-person with a mental health professional, or online with the support of a program.
By registering, you can access Mental Health Online’s free and comprehensive Panic Disorder assessment and treatment. You may like to do this by yourself in our self-guided option, but you can also opt for our free therapist-assisted program via email, chat, or video.
Explore other treatment options
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