Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Navigate Up

Exciting Announcement: New CAMH.CA website is launching late April 2018

Panic Disorder Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

 Health Info A-Z


Panic Disorder

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 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.

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

CAMH Switchboard 416-535-8501
CAMH General Information Toronto: 416-595-6111 Toll Free: 1-800-463-6273
Connex Ontario Help Lines
Queen St.
1001 Queen St. W
Toronto, ON
M6J 1H4
Russell St.
33 Russell St.
Toronto, ON
M5S 2S1
College St.
250 College St.
Toronto, ON
M5T 1R8
Ten offices across Ontario