What is panic disorder?
Panic disorder involves recurrent, unexpected panic attacks (e.g., heart palpitations,
sweating, trembling) followed by at least one month of:
a. persistent concern about having another panic attack or the consequences of a panic attack (e.g., having a heart attack), and/or
b. significant behaviour changes related to the attacks (e.g., avoiding exercise or places for fear of having a panic attack) (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
Panic attacks may be accompanied by agoraphobia.
What are the signs & symptoms of panic disorder?
Cognitive symptoms include thoughts such as:
- “I’m having a heart attack.”
- "I’m suffocating.”
Physical symptoms include:
- accelerated heart rate
- chest pain or discomfort
- dizziness or nausea
- trembling or shaking
- shortness of breath.
Behavioural signs include:
- avoiding places where the person had anxiety symptoms in the
past (e.g., a certain grocery store) or similar places (e.g., all
- avoiding travel, malls, line-ups
- avoiding strenuous activities (e.g., exercise).
What are the causes & risk factors of panic disorder?
It is not known exactly why some people develop a panic disorder,
although research suggests that various factors may be involved. Like
most mental health problems, panic disorders appear to be caused by a
combination of biological and psychological factors and challenging life
- stressful or traumatic life events
- a family history of panic disorder
- other medical or psychiatric problems.
What is the treatment for panic disorder?
Many psychological treatments, such as relaxation training,
meditation, biofeedback and stress management, can help with panic
disorders. Many people with panic disorders also benefit from supportive
counselling or family therapy. However, experts agree that the most
effective form of treatment for panic disorders is cognitive-behavioural
therapy (CBT). Medications have also been proven effective, and many
people receive CBT and medication in combination.
Reference: American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.), Washington, DC: Author. Adapted from Anxiety Disorders: An Information Guide © 2016 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Where can I find help, treatment and support for panic disorder?
Treatment from CAMH
Help for Families from CAMH
Ontario Mental Health Helpline (open 24/7 for treatment anywhere in Ontario)
Where can I find more information related to panic disorder?
Anxiety: An Information Guide (CAMH online store)
Anxiety Disorder 101 (online tutorial) Please Note: Your pop-up blocker must be turned off to view this tutorial
What Older Adults, Their Families and Friends Need to Know about… Anxiety (PDF)
Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy: An Information Guide (CAMH online store)
Understanding Psychiatric Medications: Antidepressants
Understanding Psychiatric Medications: Benzodiazepines