A person with panic disorder will experience feelings of fear that strike abruptly and often without notice. Bouts of anxiety in between these episodes are common, due to the uncertainty associated with when the next one might occur.
Symptoms of Panic Disorder
When someone has a panic attack, they may experience any number of the following conditions:
Some people may truly believe that they are in the midst of a heart attack or stroke, losing their minds, or literally about to die. Panic attacks can take place at any time, even during non-REM sleep. Although the majority of attacks are over after a couple minutes, sometimes they will last as long as ten minutes. On rare occasions, they may continue for an hour.
Between three and six million Americans have been diagnosed with some form of panic disorder, and more women than men suffer from this condition. People can develop a panic disorder at any age, but the first signs usually are evident in the teenager years. Just because you have panic attacks does not mean that you have a panic disorder. For instance, it is possible to suffer a panic attack and never have a follow-up to it.
A panic disorder can really confine a person, causing them to avoid routine activities such as grocery shopping, driving, or in extreme circumstances, leaving their home. Other times, the only way they may be able to face their fears is through the accompaniment of a loved one or someone else who is trustworthy. Essentially, they steer clear of any scenario that would make them feel vulnerable in the event of a panic attack. When someone's life begins to revolve around the disorder, which happens to about a third of the patients, this condition is referred to as agoraphobia. Panic disorder and agoraphobia tend to be hereditary, but early treatment of panic disorder will often stop agoraphobia in its tracks.
According to research, cognitive-behavioral therapy, prescription drugs, or even a combination of both will improve the quality of life for at least seven out of ten people with the disorder. However, it may take up to eight weeks before any drastic progression is obvious.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy demonstrates how to view panicky situations from another perspective and addresses methods to lower anxiety (e.g., controlled breathing, techniques of placing their focus elsewhere). Exposure therapy, another approach found in cognitive-behavioral therapy, can help ease the intensity of phobias caused by panic disorder; patients are gradually exposed to the situation that invokes fear until they become indifferent to it.
Some people are convinced that medicine is the best remedy for symptoms caused by panic disorder. Two kinds of drugs that have proved effective in the treatment of panic disorder include antidepressants and benzodiazepines.
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