Panic disorder is one of several anxiety disorders that involve an intense, abrupt and oftentimes debilitating period of discomfort and fear. Panic disorders affect millions of men and women of all ages, and can be triggered by several situations or circumstances, real or imagined.
Gerald Klerman of the World Psychiatric Association and author of the book, “Panic Anxiety and Its Treatments” points out that there are several DSM-III-R diagnostic criteria that must be fulfilled in order to classify someone as having panic disorder.
First, one or more of the panic attacks must have occurred when the person was exposed to a situation that doesn’t typically cause anxiety. This could be anything from going to the grocery store, watching a movie they’ve already seen, or washing the dishes. The panic attack must also not be triggered by a situation where the person was the center of attention, such as a public speaking event, a birthday party, or other situation where they were the focus of a crowd.
Secondly, four attacks must have occurred within a four-week period, or the person must have experienced persistent fear after having an attack. Symptoms of fear after a panic attack may include difficulty sleeping, extreme paranoia and restlessness.
Third, during a panic attack the person must also have experienced at least four of the following symptoms: trembling or shaking; sweating; shortness of breath; dizziness; depersonalization; numbness or tingling; hot flashes; fear of dying; chest pain or discomfort; accelerated heart rate; nausea; choking; and fear of going crazy.
Fourth, the person must have experienced at least four of the symptoms in increased intensity within 10 minutes of the beginning of the first symptom they noticed they were having during the panic attack. In many cases, this means the person was feeling very out of control, unbalanced, and even confused.
Finally, the possibility that the attack was triggered by caffeine, amphetamines or hyper-thyroidism must be ruled out. Many people experience the symptoms of panic disorder because they have become dependent on over-the-counter stimulants, or have an unaddressed medical condition. If the person is taking supplements or stimulants, they may not fulfill the criteria for panic disorder by a psychiatrist.
Panic disorder is just one of several anxiety disorders that affect millions of people every year. Panic disorder can become a problem in someone’s life if it interferes with social relationships, or limits the person’s ability to work or live a fulfilling life. If you or someone you know is suffering from panic disorder, there are several treatment options available. Nobody has to suffer from the effects of extreme anxiety and panic attacks for the rest of their lives.
Panic disorder treatments may require medical intervention only in extreme cases; most people can make changes to their lifestyle, ensure they are eating a well-balanced diet and getting enough sleep, and learning healthy ways to cope with stress. Some people may also benefit from taking natural supplements that reduce anxiety and help to alleviate some of the symptoms of a panic attack.