Recognizing Panic Disorder

Women who are most likely to experience panic attacks are least likely to be aware of panic disorder, according to a survey by the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA). The survey found that almost half (45 percent) of women ages 18-34 and over 55 – two groups most likely to have panic disorder – were not familiar with the condition

According to the ADAA, women are twice as likely to have panic disorder than men, with two to three million women frequently experiencing panic attacks. The most common age of onset for panic disorder varies from adolescence to mid-thirties.

What is Panic Disorder?

Imagine you're safe at home, sitting comfortably in front of the TV when out of nowhere, you feel your heart rate accelerate, your breathing becomes erratic, and you experience true terror for no reason whatsoever. This is the experience of the panic sufferer.

People suffering from panic disorder may not be anxious all of the time. However, they do experience unanticipated "attacks" that recur after periods of normal functioning. These "attacks" are sudden, overwhelming periods of intense fear that seemingly come out of nowhere. Quite often, a person suffering from a panic attack will believe he or she is suffering from a heart attack and dying.

Recognizing the Symptoms

Common symptoms of panic attacks include shortness of breath, dizziness, heart palpitations, nausea, numbness or tingling, chest pain, a sense of "strangeness" or being detached from one's surrounding and fear of going "insane" or dying. The person suffering from panic disorder often develops anticipatory anxiety, tension and worry that the panic will happen again.

Getting Help for Panic Disorder

The key symptom of panic disorder is the persistent fear of having future attacks. If you or a family member suffers from repeated (four or more) panic attacks, and especially if you have had a panic attack and are in continued fear of having another, these are signs that you should consider getting help from a mental health professional who specializes in panic and anxiety disorders. Most specialists agree that a combination of cognitive and behavioral therapies are the best treatment for panic disorder. Medication may also be appropriate in some cases.