Panic Disorder: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Mind It
3 min read

Panic disorder is a condition in which a person experiences sudden and repetitive panic attacks.

According to DSM-5,a panic attack is a sudden surge of discomfort and fear at it peaks within a few minutes.

It generally affects people between the ages of 20 to 24 and you may have panic disorder if you have have four or more attacks or are constantly afraid of having another panic attack.

For someone who experiences periods of intense fear, and discomfort that something bad might happen, fear or threat in general, these symptoms become so intense that the person might experience physiological changes like increased heart palpitations, dizziness or shortness of breath.


Here's what to know about the symptoms, causes and treatment options of the disorder.

Panic Disorder: Causes

There is no definite reason or cause for panic attacks.

Some researches point to genetics, while others question this interconnection.

A person may also experience panic attacks as a result of important events that bring sudden changes in their life like shifting to a new city, joining a new college, getting married, or having a first child.

These events may put stress you out giving rise to panic attacks.

According to the studies of the National Institute of Mental Health, women are more at risk of suffering from panic disorder.

People in their teens and early adolescence are more likely to experience panic attacks as compared to other age groups.

Panic Disorder: Symptoms 

Panic attack begins with a sudden fear with great intensity and continues for 15 to 20 minutes in normal situation.

In extreme cases, the attack may last for more than an hour. Though the symptoms and intensity of patients differ from one another, there are some common symptoms, which include:

  • Increases heart rate or palpitations

  • Loss of breath

  • Feeling dizzy

  • Feeling as if you being choked

  • Vertigo

  • Shaking and trembling

  • Nausea, constant sweating and chills

  • Feelings or derealisation or depersonalisation

  • Unwanted fear of dying

  • Pain in the chest or tightened chest muscles

  • Feelings of tingling in your hands and feet

These symptoms may or may not occur everytime you experience a panic attack. You may notice few or all of them.

They have nothing to do with the severity of your attack or your surroundings.

The symptoms do not depend on your surrounding, but affect your normal functioning in day to day life.

Panic Disorder: Treatment 

If panic disorder is not treated on time or ignored for long, it may have a negative effect on the life of a person.

If you are experiencing panic attacks, consult your doctor immediately and know the options available to you.

A delay in treatment may lead to rise of other issues like suicidal thoughts, alcohol or drug abuse, depression, agoraphobia.

Children who have panic disorder may find it difficult to attend school or college, causing harm to their overall development.

Few treatment options your doctor may suggest are,

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): These are among the prescribed antidepressants used for anxiety and panic attacks. They are used to increase the serotonin in the brain by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin in the nerve cells and making them flow towards the brain. They have proved to have less side effects and be effective in the long term.

  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): These medications not only increase the serotonins but also the norepinephrine in the brain, a chemical that helps the body react to stress. They also have less side effects.

  • TCAs are the older group of medication that are equally effective like the SSRIs but they have taken a backseat after the introduction of SSRIs in the market. They work by increasing the levels of serotonins and norepinephrine and blocking the anxiety-causing chemical acetycholine.

  • Benzodiazepines are also another medicines that act as sedatives and helps you calm down by slowing down your central nervous system. Though they are highly effective in reducing the symptoms of panic attack, they are not beneficial for the long term and can promote drug dependency. One should never self medicate, and should only take benzodiazepines under a doctor's supervision.

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: Your doctor may also recommend therapy so that he can make you talk and assess the root causes of your panic attacks, and help you work your way through them.

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