Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder

What is Panic Disorder?

Panic involves sudden intense anxiety which may include shortness of breath, dizziness, trembling, upset stomach, rapid heartbeat, feelings of unreality, terror and dread. People are often afraid they might be having a heart attack or be going crazy. It often seems to come out of the blue unprovoked by any identifiable stressor which causes fear and dread of another attack.

What are the symptoms of Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder?

    1. Panic disorder is characterized by unexpected panic attacks. A panic attack is an abrupt surge of intense fear or intense discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes but for some people can seem to last a long time. The abrupt surge can occur from a calm state or an anxious state. Panic attacks include at least four of these symptoms:
      • Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate.
      • Sweating. Possibly sweaty palms.
      • Trembling or shaking.
      • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering.
      • Feelings of choking.
      • Chest pain or discomfort.
      • Nausea or abdominal distress.
      • Chills or heat sensations.
      • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed or faint.
      • Numbness or tingling sensations.
      • Feelings of unreality (derealization) or feeling detached from oneself. (depersonalization).
      • Fear of losing control, “freaking out” or “going crazy.”
      • Fear of a heart attack or fear of dying.
    2. One or more of the attacks has been followed by a month of either or both,
      • Persistent concern or worry about additional panic attacks or the consequences of panic attacks such as losing control, having a heart attack, or “going crazy”.
      • Significant changes in behavior related to fear of having panic attacks. Such as avoiding exercise, certain foods, or unfamiliar situations.

What are the causes of Panic Disorder?

There is no one clear cause of Panic Disorder. However most people report identifiable stressors in the months before their first panic attack including a wide array of possibilities such as relationship problems, work stress, overwhelming time commitments, health issues, death in the family, negative reactions to drugs or alcohol, lack of sleep, poor diet or excessive caffeine use. Underlying potential risk factors include a history of smoking, asthma or other respiratory problems as well as negative childhood experiences like physical or sexual abuse, separation anxiety and a history of “fearful spells” or anxiety attacks that are less intense than panic attacks.  Proneness to experiencing negative emotions and sensitivity to anxiety, i.e. believing that anxiety symptoms are harmful can also contribute to the likelihood of developing panic disorder. It is believed that multiple genes confer vulnerability to panic disorder. There is an increased risk for panic disorder among offspring of parents with anxiety, depressive and bipolar disorders.

How can you treat Panic Disorder?

Dr. Dufford and Anxiety Treatment Services provide integrative and comprehensive therapy for panic disorder including individual therapy, group support and behavioral fieldwork.  Modalities include Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Psychotherapy, Hypnotherapy, EMDR, Energy Psychology, and Meditation/Mindfulness.

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