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What is Panic Disorder?

A person who wants to work as a psychologist, psychiatrist, nurse, counselor or related professional may wonder, “What is panic disorder?” Panic disorder is a mental health condition related to anxiety. It can be a scary experience for the person having the panic attack, and understanding what panic disorder is could help a healthcare provider offer better care for their patients.

A Type of Anxiety

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. A person feels terror or that their life is in immediate danger, but they cannot explain why. There is no obvious cause or trigger for the feeling of panic in an individual with panic disorder. This is different from when there is an explainable reason for feeling panicked. For example, a person whose child still has not come home two hours after curfew might feel panicked. A person with panic disorder could have sudden feelings of terror with no triggering event.

Emotions Related to Panic Disorder

A person with panic disorder may feel “normal” between episodes of feeling panicked. The panic episodes are called panic attacks. The person feels like they have lost control or have no control over the immediate situation. They may also feel as if they are going to die, but they cannot explain why they feel that way. No single event triggered their feeling.

Physical Symptoms of a Panic Attack

According to the United States National Library of Medicine Medline Plus, the symptoms of a panic attack occur suddenly. The physical symptoms can include a fast heartbeat, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing and sweating. These are symptoms that mimic those of a heart attack, which is why healthcare providers need to be aware of the possibility of a panic attack before attempting medical interventions. Other physical symptoms of a panic attack include weakness or dizziness, tingling hands and feeling hot flashes or cold chills. Some people consistently have a few of these symptoms with their panic attacks. For others, their symptoms might change with each episode.

Impact of Panic Disorder

More women than men experience panic disorders. Researchers are not sure if panic disorders are associated with cycling hormones or higher estrogen levels that are more common in women. Panic disorder usually begins during the young adult years. When a person is stressed, they are more likely to have panic attacks. For example, a person facing tight deadlines at work, problems with their family and a house that is messy could be under a lot of stress. A person dealing with a serious medical issue in themselves or their family member could also be under a lot of stress, putting them at a higher risk of a panic attack. People with panic disorder often develop a heightened state of fear. They might avoid places where they have had a panic attack. They may begin to fear leaving home. Therapy can help with symptoms.

Seeing someone having a panic attack resembles seeing someone having a heart attack or another emergency. Understanding what a panic disorder is and being able to identify one could allow a healthcare professional to get the right treatment for the patient. Knowing what is panic disorder could also help the person’s family members recognize what is going on with their loved one.