Panic disorder refers to recurrent, unexpected panic attacks (e.g., heart palpitations, sweating, trembling) followed by at least one month of:
A panic attack is a sudden feeling of intense fear or discomfort that peaks within minutes. It includes stressful physical and cognitive symptoms as well as behavioural signs.
Physical symptoms include:
Cognitive symptoms include thoughts such as:
Behavioural signs include:
It is not known exactly why some people develop panic disorder, although research suggests that various factors may be involved. Like most mental health problems, panic disorder appears to be caused by a combination of biological and psychological factors and challenging life experiences, including:
Many psychological treatments, such as relaxation training, meditation, biofeedback and stress management, can help with panic disorder. Many people with panic disorder also benefit from supportive counselling or family therapy. However, experts agree that the most effective form of treatment for panic disorder is cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). Medications have also been proven effective, and many people receive CBT and medication in combination.
What is the difference between panic attacks and panic disorder?
Having a panic attack does not mean that you have panic disorder. You may experience a panic attack if you are stressed or overtired, or if you have exercised excessively. Panic attacks only become a problem if you are constantly worried about having another attack, or if you are afraid that something bad will happen because of a panic attack (e.g., fainting, having a heart attack, going crazy). This fear results because the panic attacks are unexpected and unpredictable. This is different from having an expected panic attack, which could occur if you go on a Ferris wheel and you are afraid of heights.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.) © 2013 American Psychological Association
Panic disorder © AnxietyBC
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