Have you ever experienced a sudden surge of panic that left you fearing another attack of that magnitude? Those who have Panic Disorder (PD) are sometimes unaware that they actually have this disorder. Some even hear from doctors and loved ones that there is nothing wrong with them or that they are simply hypochondriacs.
The truth is, about six million people living in the United States experience symptoms of Panic Disorder every year. Moreover, women are more likely than men to have PD. Read on to learn more about Panic Disorder, its symptoms, causes, treatment options, and examples of PD in pop culture and real life.
What Is Panic Disorder?
Panic Disorder (PD) is a psychological disorder that has repetitious and often unanticipated panic attacks as characteristics. These last for at least a few minutes at a time. Those with PD tend to experience extended periods of worry about subsequent attacks, generally lasting for at least a month. Attacks can be triggered by stressful stimuli or events. They often connect with co-existing disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.
Behaviors change as a result of a panic attack. Those with PD will sometimes try to avoid stimuli or events that they believe might trigger future panic attacks and will therefore seek out or remain in situations where they do not feel at risk for an attack.
Symptoms of Panic Disorder
In order to receive a diagnosis, you must meet the criteria listed within the DSM-5 for Panic Disorders. The most telling characteristic is the repetition of sudden and unexpected panic attacks. They lead to a prolonged (by at least a month) period of worrying about experiencing further attacks. Panic attacks are specifiers in other disorders per the DSM-5.
In order to be diagnosed, you have to have had repeated sudden attacks lasting more than a few minutes, followed by prolonged periods of worry. Additionally, you also must experience at least four of the following symptoms in order to be diagnosed:
- Tachycardia, heart palpitations, and heart racing;
- Chills/hot flashes;
- Profuse sweating;
- Shortness of breath;
- Numbness or tingling throughout the body;
- Choking sensations;
- Fear of losing control;
- Fear of suddenly dying;
- Chest tightness, pain, or discomfort;
- De-personalization or de-realization (feeling disconnected from yourself or from reality);
- Nausea, dizziness, or feeling faint;
- Abdominal pain or distress.
To receive a diagnosis, these symptoms cannot exclusively be results of substance abuse, other psychiatric disorders, or other medical conditions.
Causes of Panic Disorder
What exactly causes PD to manifest? Ongoing studies are trying to pinpoint precise causes for PD. So far, there are four major factors that have emerged through continuous research. These four factors involve both environmental and biological sources for PD. One of the seemingly most common causes of PD is family history. Researchers struggle with determining the genetic source of PD due to its phenotypic and genetic complexities. However, behavioral trends (such as behavioral inhibition) have been noted as familial risk factors that manifest as early as infancy.
Additionally, scientists find that there is a potential neurological foundation for PD due to asymmetrical cerebral blood flow (CBF) in the parahippocampal gyrus. This is a gray matter area surrounding the hippocampus. It plays a part in memory formation and retrieval.
Environmental causes of PD include substance abuse and chronic stress. Chemicals contained in drugs and alcohol can increase anxiety and lead to panic attacks. Excessive ingestion of anything that depresses the Central Nervous System (CNS), such as alcohol, can cause stress. This is because it impairs mental and physical functioning abilities. Withdrawal from these substances can also trigger anxiety and panic attacks.
Other Issues Related to Panic Disorder
Panic Disorder is often linked with other psychiatric disorders. One study found that 98% of those with PD shown with at least one other psychiatric disorder. In fact, approximately 50% of patients with PD also shown symptoms characteristic of major depression.
There are also links between PD and various physical conditions. These include cardiovascular diseases, joint hypermobility, and autoimmune disorders and thyroid issues. Some of the issues are Hashimoto’s disease and hypothyroidism, even though these disorders might not be directly caused by or cause panic disorder or attacks.
3 Panic Disorder Treatment Options
There are multiple ways to treat PD, although a combination of these methods is generally the most effective. Remember, if you think you might have PD or any other psychiatric condition, do not attempt to self-diagnose and self-treat your condition.
Be sure to set up an appointment with a licensed professional to discuss your symptoms and treatment options. These might include the following:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Also known as CBT, this type of psychotherapy focuses on changing patterns of thought and behavioral responses from negative to positive.
- Medications: Beta-blockers, benzodiazepines, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors [SNRIs], and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors [SSRIs] are commonly used to treat PD.
- Learning relaxation techniques: For example, visualization of calming surroundings,
listening to calming music, or doing yoga or meditation.
Panic Disorder Examples
Panic Disorder isn’t as well-discussed in pop culture as depression and anxiety. But given how highly they correlate, it is important to pay attention to examples of PD in pop culture. Many celebrities report having PD, including actress Emma Stone and musician Ellie Goulding, who received treatment for her panic attacks.
We get a glimpse into what it is like to live with PD in recent novels and films, including the 2015 hit novel The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and its 2016 film adaptation. The main protagonist, Rachel Watson, struggles with panic attacks, substance abuse, and the ramifications of an emotionally and physically abusive relationship.
To Sum It Up
Panic Disorder is a real and complicated disorder that can impede your quality-of-life. It is a highly treatable disorder, and positive results can be attained through a combination of treatment methods. If you suspect you might have PD, speak to your doctor or counselor about your concerns. But do not attempt to self-diagnose or self-medicate.
Remember, you are not crazy. There are valid reasons as to why you are experiencing symptoms of PD. Therefore, it is important to understand those reasons and that it’s okay to seek help in order to do so.
The images are from depositphotos.com.