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Panic Disorder Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

 Health Info A-Z


Panic Disorder

What is panic disorder?

Panic disorder (with or without agoraphobia) involves “repeated, unexpected panic attacks (e.g., heart palpitations, sweating, trembling) followed by at least one month of persistent concern about having another panic attack.”

Panic attacks may be accompanied by agoraphobia, which involves avoiding or enduring with marked distress specific situations, such as being outside the home alone, being in a crowd or standing in a line in public.

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 grocery stores)
  • 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 experiences, including:

  • 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.

Adapted from Anxiety Disorders: An Information Guide © 2009 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 (PDF)

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 (PDF)

Understanding Psychiatric Medications: Antidepressants

Understanding Psychiatric Medications: Benzodiazepines

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