Out of the blue, you start shaking and sweating, almost unable to breathe, maybe for no real reason. You could be suffering from panic disorder; HEALTH investigates more.
All of us have undergone some kind of severe stress at some point in our lives; but when the stress becomes too much to bear, it can actually become a panic disorder. Panic attacks can be frightening and give the impression that the sufferer is undergoing a heart attack with accompanying dizziness, chest pain, breathlessness, and other similar symptoms. “Typically, a mild panic attack or disorder can be associated with thoughts of danger and death with some associated physical symptoms such as palpitations and sweating,” says Psychologist Devika Singh-Mankani.
She adds that more severe disorders may be associated with similar thoughts and a feeling of the need to escape; feeling like one is ‘going crazy’, feelings of choking,
nausea, numbness, or tingling sensation, and feelings of unreality.
What Makes it Unique?
How can we differentiate between a panic attack and some other kind of similar episode? According to Singh-Mankani, the criteria for panic disorder is when an individual avoids certain situations for at least one month because of these attacks. “During this month, they must exhibit persistent concern and worry about these attacks that often appear to be ‘out-of-the-blue,’” she says, but advises it is important to rule out other reasons for the panic attacks. She adds, “Also, it is important to rule out other psychological problems such as separation anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobia, or post-traumatic stress disorder, or a separation anxiety disorder.”
Some individuals make significant changes in their lives as a result of panic disorder. They may stop going to work, be absent from school, or even go to the extent of staying at home or close to home so in case of a panic attack, they can quickly return back home safely.
Treatment responses vary from person-to-person, points out Singh-Makani. Often times, clients may have outbreaks with periods of calm in-between that may last for years, while others may have severe symptoms throughout their lives. Treatment currently focuses on cognitive behavior therapy or a combination of cognitive behavior therapy and medication, she explains. “The therapy includes helping the client understand the relationship between thoughts, behaviors, and physiological effects and come up with alternatives,” she adds. “It is critical for people who experience panic attacks to have a thorough medical examination to rule out a general medical condition such as seizure disorders and cardiac conditions.”