Do you or someone you know ever experience out of the blue attacks of anxiety? Does it come with shortness of breath or feeling smothered, palpitations or pounding heart, trembling or shaking, or chest pain or discomfort? If so, you may have panic disorder. People who have panic disorder often experience unexpected panic attacks, and often become preoccupied with the fear of having the reoccur. One of the scariest things a person feels is that it they can come out of the blue.
Panic disorder can interfere quite a lot with everyday life. It can cause you to miss work or school, spend a lot of time going to the Doctor, or cause you to avoid situations because you fear you may have a panic attack. Attacks themselves usually last from 5-10 minutes, and it can feel like you are having a heart attack or stroke. It feels really scary, and people often end up in the Emergency Department to be evaluated there.
It is thought that 2-3% of people have panic disorder. However, up to 10% of people will have a panic attack in any one year, and it is estimated that one in three people will have a panic attack in their lifetime.
The symptoms of panic disorder are varied across people, but it generally includes four of the following:
Fast or pounding heartbeat
Choking feeling or feeling you are being smothered
Hot flushes or chills
Feeling faint or dizzy
Fear of losing control
Fear of dying
Feeling that you are going crazy or losing control
Often, people can feel embarrassed about symptoms like these, or feel that they should be able to “pull themselves together”. Remember, panic disorder can be a really debilitating disorder, but is really treatable, with lots of different options. Talk therapies, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, can be a really useful way of helping reduce symptoms. This works by helping to deal with the unhelpful thoughts that can trigger an attacks. Anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications are also useful. Breathing exercises, and other lifestyle changes like exercise can also be really helpful. Examining and changing brain function with EEG and neurofeedback has also been shown to be an effective way to treat panic attacks. As with all of our interventions, we personalise all our plans on the basis of a formulation by one of our Psychology Team alongside brain data from our Neuroscience Team.