Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder

What is are Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder?

Panic attacks are connected to a broader condition named Panic Disorder, and are characterized by sudden intense feelings of anxiety and fear that strike without warning.  The individual may feel that they are going crazy or dying and may experience a rapid heartbeat and feel unable to breathe.

Panic disorder refers to the inability to cope with stressful situations without experiencing exaggerated levels of anxiety and fear.

Panic attacks are sudden and about ten minutes later all of the intense feelings of anxiety and fear disappear. Every year within the United States panic attacks affect around forty million people who are eighteen years of age and older.

Some researchers believe that a person who experiences panic attacks has a brain that is hypersensitive to carbon dioxide which triggers a suffocation “false alarm” in the brain.  Panic attacks have been associated with phobias, depression, alcohol abuse, and risk of suicide.

Substance abuse, family history and underlying brain conditions represent the main risk factors that may be linked to panic disorder.

What are the Symptoms of Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder?

Acute symptoms of a panic attack include chest pains, difficulty breathing, a racing heart, sense of terror or impending doom, feeling a loss of control, feelings of tingling or numbness in the fingers and hands, experiencing chills or feeling sweaty, and feeling faint, dizzy, or weak.

Panic attacks can be linked to momentary stressful situations or other underlying conditions.

How are Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder Treated?

A combination of medication and psychotherapy is recommended. Medication may include anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants such as Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft, and Celexa; and beta blockers. Relaxation and breathing techniques may also be employed to treat panic attacks. Therapy can help individuals understand that their fears have no true basis in reality.

Last Reviewed:
September 21, 2016
Last Updated:
August 23, 2017