Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder in which repeated panic attacks occur which are unexpected, and not a result of a substance, or another psychological disorder (such as social phobia). Panic disorder can
occur with or without agoraphobia being present.
A panic attack is an episode of extreme anxiety that includes a specific pattern of symptoms associated with extreme physiological arousal. There may be heart palpitations, trembling or shaking. Often, there are
chest pains which cause the person to believe he/she is experiencing a heart attack. The person may feel dizzy, may sweat profusely, have hot flashes, or experience numbness in the extremities. The person may also
experience shortness of breath. Nausea is often present, and sometimes the person has difficulty swallowing or feels like he/she is choking. There may be a feeling of unreality, or being detached from oneself. A
panic attack often results in a fear of dying, losing control or going crazy. This attack comes on suddenly, and often occurs without a trigger.
A person with panic disorder spends a tremendous amount of time worrying about having another attack. This may result in lifestyle changes, or other behavior pattern designed to prepare for the possibility of
another panic attack. Panic attacks can frequently result in a significant disruption of normal behavior. Many individuals after having a panic attack visit the emergency room of a hospital, because they are
convinced that they are having a medical emergency.
Treatment for panic disorder, and the associated anxiety and avoidance behavior, involves psychotherapy, desensitization and other cognitive and behavioral techniques.
The goal is to be able to regain control and interrupt a panic attack if one occurs. Frequently, other anxiety issues have to be treated as part of controlling panic disorder.
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