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Panic Disorder

Introduction

In our daily lives there are situations in which it is reasonable to feel uneasy or anxious. Physiological fear is an adaptive response that helps us face challenges. We experience it as an inconvenient discomfort occurring in a totally appropriate situation.

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Panic Disorder (PD) is different from everyday nervousness because it is a more intense fear, totally inappropriate for the circumstance in which it is occurring. Panic attacks occur spontaneously or ‘out of the blue’. That is, they can occur independent of any stressful situation and this exaggerated fear may often interfere with daily life.

Panic attacks can also be triggered by ordinary life events and situations or they can be triggered by anticipating such events or situations. In other words panic attacks can be triggered by fearful thoughts. Feared situations can include supermarkets, crowded places, expressways, tunnels or bridges, social occasions, escalators or elevators, and many other situations.

What is a Panic Attack?

A person experiencing a panic attack feels an overpowering fear that is usually accompanied by a range of physical sensations. The sufferer of the panic attack will often misinterpret these feelings. sunflower_single.gifThey might believe that they are having a heart attack or going insane. They fear losing control, becoming ‘hysterical’ or may even believe that they might die. A panic attack is defined as a distinct period of extreme fear or discomfort, in which four or more of the symptoms listed below develop abruptly and reach a peak within 10 minutes.

The panic attack may last seconds, minutes or even an hour or more. Panic attacks can occur in waves but this form of anxiety is rarely continuous. Panic attacks affect up to 3% of the population at some time in their lives.

Symptoms of Panic Attacks:

Increased awareness of the heart beat
Sweating
Trembling or shaking
Feeling of choking, shortness of breath or smothering
Chest pain or discomfort
Nausea or abdominal distress
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Feeling of unreality or feeling detached from oneself or from the surroundings
Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed or faint
Fear of losing control or going crazy
Fear of dying
Numbness, tingling or pins and needles
Chills or hot flushes

What causes Panic Disorder?

The underlying causes of PD or Panic Disorder are not yet known. sunflower_single.gifThe triggers discussed on the previous page are not the cause. They are simply the triggers. There may be multiple causes. Individuals with family history of PD are more likely to develop this condition. Influences during growing up may contribute to developing PD.

New evidence suggests that chemical imbalances in the brain are important causes of PD. Neuro-transmitters are chemicals in the brain that pass on the messages from one nerve cell to the next. Malfunction of this process may contribute to PD. Serotonin is an important neuro-transmitter in the brain.

There are other important factors that may contribute to causing PD. Such factors include anxious self-talk or ‘catastrophising’, negative beliefs such as the belief that the world is a very dangerous place or that the world will criticise us. A stressful lifestyle, some food additives, abuse of caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, ‘speed’ or amphetamines and other drugs can all contribute to PD.