What Is Panic Disorder, And Is There A Cure?

Reviewed by Whitney White, MS CMHC, NCC., LPC

Published 12/10/2020

As you can imagine, panic disorder involves periods in which a person experiences panic. However, there is much more to this disorder. This article explains the panic disorder definition, causes, treatment options, and if there is a cure to this condition. Keep reading to find out as much as possible about panic disorder and how it can affect someone.

What is a panic disorder?

Panic disorder is thought of as an anxiety disorder. The condition is characterized by panic attacks, which are periods of extreme panic, which can interfere with where someone goes, how they behave, and what they are able to do in their daily life. If you experience panic disorder, therapy may be necessary, so you can live a life that isn’t interrupted by episodes of panic and anxiety. Panic disorder’s mental health definition involves a condition in which a person experiences panic attacks, which are strong periods of fear and panic, and there is usually no outward cause for these attacks.

Panic Attacks

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A panic attack is an attack that happens suddenly and causes a period of panic. They usually last around 5 minutes but can last up to 20 minutes in some. During this time, a person can feel many different things, including physical ailments. They may also feel like they are unable to breathe. There is usually no discernible cause for these attacks, which can cause a person to live in fear of when they will experience another one.

It is fine if you have a panic attack once or twice in your life. In fact, many people have a couple over the course of their lives. However, if you are often experiencing panic attacks, this is something that needs to be checked out. You may be experiencing too much anxiety or stress. Essentially, anxiety attacks or intense periods of stress can be a problem and should be remedied as soon as you start to notice them.

Causes

There is no one cause that can be pinpointed when it comes to panic disorder or panic syndrome. However, like other mental health conditions, one of the causes of panic attacks may be a genetic connection. If someone that is related to you has panic disorder, you might be more likely to have it as well.

You may also have too much stress in your life. Moreover, there could be an issue with the way your brain processes things. Panic disorders use your body’s natural fight or flight reflex, and in some people, this reflex may be stronger than in others. This fight or flight reflex, which is explained in detail in an article published by HarvardHealth, is the way the human body responds to a stressful situation, and this is no cause for concern. However, some people engage in the fight or flight response when there is no danger or stress present. This is why experts feel like a possible cause could be differences in the way people process certain situations.

Symptoms

These are some of the most common panic disorder symptoms that you should take note of.

  • Racing heartbeat
  • Feeling like you are having a heart attack
  • Feeling like you may die
  • Overheating or feeling cold
  • Feeling faint
  • Pain in chest
  • Unable to catch your breath
  • Upset stomach
  • Feeling like you are having an out of body experience
  • Tingling in extremities
  • Sudden panic
  • Intense feelings of worry
  • Avoidance of places, situations, or people

Treatment Options

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If you are concerned that you may be experiencing a panic disorder, there is a panic disorder test you can take, in order to gain more information. It will help you be able to figure out where and how to seek out the treatment that you need for this condition.

There are a number of treatments for panic disorder, although it may take a while to be able to find the combination of treatments that help you get rid of your symptoms. The most common form of treatment for panic disorder and panic attacks is psychotherapy. This may be due to the fact that it’s important to understand why someone who experiences panic attacks is stressed or if they have triggers that need to be addressed. In this instance, a trigger is a situation, place, person, or object that causes someone to have a panic attack. The American Journal of Psychiatry shows that there are different therapy approaches, which can effectively help those with panic disorder.

The Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry also published an article that suggested that many people can see improvement with their panic disorder when they work with a therapist, even if it is online therapy. Essentially this means that with the assistance of a therapist, you may be more likely to be able to see your panic attacks become less frequent, which in turn can allow you to have fewer interruptions in your life and routine.

There are also certain medications that are used to treat panic disorder. They may be targeted to help with certain symptoms. You can talk to your doctor about what prescriptions may be able to help you if this is something that you want to explore during your treatment.

Other Things to Do

There are a few things you can also add to your routine, in order to hopefully increase the effectiveness of your treatment. Try some of these tips, to see if they work for you and help you manage your stress.

  1. Pay attention to your health. You need to be proactive about your physical health. This is especially important since panic disorder can make you feel like you are having a heart attack and cause other physical symptoms. You will want to be sure that panic disorder is causing these aspects, and it isn’t a physical condition that is causing you to suffer. It is a good idea to get an annual medical checkup or talk to your doctor about your heart health, to be sure that you are in good condition. If you are not, this is the first thing that you should start to work on and get treatment for. You will need to improve your health as much as possible, in all aspects. Additionally, you should start watching what you eat, taking part in light exercise, and making sure that you drink enough water as well.
  2. Start writing. You may be able to note some benefit from either keeping a diary or writing in general. This can be an outlet for a number of different reasons. One is that you can share your fears and worries, so you don’t have to keep them to yourself. Sometimes a therapist will recommend that you keep a diary as part of treatment, but even if they do not in your case, it is a good idea to do so.

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  1. Be nice to yourself. Try to be nice to yourself. This means that you do everything you can to avoid beating yourself up. Don’t talk badly about yourself or harbor negative feelings about yourself. This can be difficult to do, of course, but as you are pursuing therapy, you will likely be able to learn how to do this more effectively. Another good course of action is to do things just for you. Do some online shopping for your favorite things or sit back and eat your favorite ice cream sometimes.
  2. Concentrate on the moment. When you are working through a panic attack, you may feel like you are not in your body, so it is important to try to focus when you feel like you are having one. There is a chance that this can help you keep from having them, or if you still experience a panic attack, it may be less severe. To do this, you can concentrate on staying in the moment, a certain space, or a feeling or memory. Again, this is something that your counselor can help you work through, so you can become skilled at it.
  3. Follow your doctor’s advice. This is perhaps the most important thing to remember while you are going through helpful treatment. Be sure to listen to what your psychiatrist is telling you, so you can have the best chance at lessening your attacks and perhaps other symptoms associated with panic disorder. Anytime you don’t agree with them, discuss what is going on, and be honest with them along the way as well. Understand that they are there to help you.

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Is there a cure?

There is no “cure” for panic disorder. However, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t hope. If your daily life and routine are affected by this disorder, you should consider getting treatment, so you can be less impacted by this condition. This involves visiting with a therapist, so they are able to tailor a specialized treatment program for you, to improve your situation. 

Additionally, you may see a lessening of certain symptoms you experience, and some might go away entirely. You should be able to do things that you couldn’t do before or go places that you avoided previously. For instance, if you avoided airplanes, you may be able to take a trip once you reach out for help and it begins to work. Be sure to get the help you need when you feel that you need it, as it can change your life for the better.