This information is designed to be helpful to anyone who feels they may have or care about someone who may have symptoms consistent with this Panic Disorder.
Panic Attack or Panic Disorder Symptoms?
Many people have experienced one or two panic attacks in their life but this is not Panic Disorder. People who suffer Panic Disorder not only have panic attacks but also an exaggerated fear about having another panic attack. Some have compared this to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder where the ‘initial trauma’ is the panic attack. The panic attacks are unexpected although some can be queued. They are uncomfortable and can last from minutes to hours. The real struggle comes from the exaggerated fear response sometimes leading to agoraphobia (an exaggerated fear of leaving the home).
The body’s early warning system is set on a persistent ‘high alert’. This causes distortions in one’s ability to ASSESS the safety of many situations in their life. Unlike generalized anxiety disorder where you worry about everything you think about, panic disorder causes you to fear things you would never ordinarily find dangerous. Things like driving a car, or shopping cause a fear response for no apparent reason. One usually knows these fears are exaggerated, but feel that there is little they can do to change how they feel. The mind frequently looks to solve the riddle and this can make matters worse. Someone might wonder, ‘How can I have such thoughts about my baby, I must be a terrible mother!’ This thought frequently accompanies a person who’s first panic attack came while holding their child. As you might imagine, this distorts the person’s view of themselves and their world. It also doesn’t help their family life or their ability to work.
Thus, the ultimate expression of Panic Disorder is the creation of an unexplainable distortion of your sense of self and your relationship to the world. So any treatment strategy will need to keep this in mind.
These concepts of oneness and a wholistic approach are central to restoration of a full life. These concepts are covered on a separate video.
What are the Criteria for Panic Disorder?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders version 4 a person must suffer recurrent, unexpected panic attacks resulting in at least a month spent being overly concerned about having another attack, concern about implications of the panic attack or a significant change in their behavior as a result of the attack. This would not be the result of drugs or social phobia.
What are the Criteria for a Panic Attack?
I thought you might ask that question! So here it is. The above manual describes it as a discrete period of intense fear or discomfort in which at least four of the symptoms listed below develop abruptly and reach a peak within ten minutes:
- Palpitations/racing heart
- Trembling or shaking
- Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
- Feeling of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
- Feelings of unreality or feeling detached from oneself
- Fear of losing control or going crazy
- Fear of dying
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Chills or hot flushes
What are the Criteria for Agoraphobia?
Many people with panic disorder also suffer agoraphobia a third to half of the time. Agoraphobia is described in the above mentioned manual as anxiety about being in places or situations from which escape would be difficult or embarrassing. There is also the concern that help may not be available should they have another panic attack. These usually involve clusters of situations that include being outside the home, in crowds or being in a line. The situations are either avoided or endured with great distress. These would not include a simple social phobia.
At this point, you might be thinking, "If I was suddenly feeling anything like that I would go to the Emergency Room! Should I?" Yes, you should. Initially, no one can reliably tell the difference between a panic attack and a serious medical condition. Go to the Emergency Room and let them look into it, run the appropriate studies and make sure that you are safe. Afterward you should also see your medical doctor as they know you best and can look into other medical problems that might be involved.