Imagine you’re in the grocery store and all of sudden you are hit by a paralyzing fear. Your heart starts pounding out of control, a crushing sensation takes over in your chest, your throat feels like it’s closing, breathing is difficult and the room appears to be spinning. You start sweating profusely as your body starts shaking and you drop to your knees to avoid falling over. You are convinced you are about to die. For those who suffer from panic disorder, scenes similar to this are a frequent and terrifying experience.
A panic attack is a terrifying experience that hits a person with no warning and seemingly no obvious cause. During a panic attack, someone may feel as if they are having a heart attack, are being smothered and can’t breathe, and many people feel as though they are about to die. There are many additional symptoms listed bellow.
Panic Attacks Often Lead to a Disorder
For 60 million Americans, they only have one or two isolated panic attacks in their lifetime, However, for three million Americans, these seemingly random occurrences eventually develop into a full-scale panic disorder. Since there is no obvious explanation for the trigger of these frightening experiences, individuals tend to avoid the places they occurred in the hopes the surroundings were somehow responsible for the episode.
If a panic attack occurs in a public place, when it is over the individual may feel humiliated by the experience. This embarrassment may lead to worries about future panic attacks and avoidance of certain places or situations. Also some people will have a few isolated panic attacks in their lifetime, where others have a recurrent problem that devastates their quality of life.
Avoiding panic attacks can become a full-time job and the places these individuals allow themselves to go in the community may become increasingly limited. In extreme cases, someone can eventually stop leaving their home altogether.
Panic disorder may develop into agoraphobia, where the individual severely restricts the places they will go and the activities they will participate in for fear or embarrassment of a possible panic attack.
The exact causes of panic attacks are still unknown. Some people have theorized that panic attacks are a misfiring in the body’s fight-or-flight response. In other words, the biological system that activates when you need to escape danger is triggered unnecessarily. Others speculate it is a complex combination of environmental and biological factors. As with many mental health conditions, a combination of possible factors are thought to contribute to the disorder. Such as:
- Physical Illness
- Negative thought patterns
- Major life stress issues
- Family history of panic disorder
- Nutritional deficiencies (especially insufficient zinc or magnesium)
- History of anxiety disorder in the face of physical issues
- Certain medications
- Past sexual or physical abuse
Signs and Symptoms
Panic Attack Symptoms
Unfortunately, panic attacks come on suddenly and the reasons for them are rarely evident. They generally last for over 10 minutes and the experience is very similar to that of a heart attack. During a panic attack, someone may be subjected to any or all of the following:
- Racing heart beat
- Chest pain
- Feeling shaky
- Numbness in the extremities
- Choking sensation
- Difficulty breathing
- Sudden need to urinate or defecate
- Feeling outside of them-self
- Overwhelming feeling of impending doom or death
- Fear of losing control
Panic Disorder Signs
A panic attack can be extremely disturbing. As the regularity increases and a person’s behavior starts to change, a panic disorder is created. The three main signs a panic disorder has evolved are:
- Frequent panic attacks with no logical explanation
- Live in fear of having another panic attack
- Changing normal behaviors in an attempt to avoid future panic attacks
Signs Including Agoraphobia
The understanding of agoraphobia has evolved over the years. Now it is understood that agoraphobia springs from the repeated occurrence of panic attacks. Over time, the places where terrifying episodes have been experienced are avoided. The number of locales an individual with panic disorder will then allow herself to go, ultimately, becomes severely restricted.
Situations and activities someone with agoraphobia will steer clear of include:
- Engaging in physical activities because they may cause a panic attack
- Leaving home without the help of someone they trust in case a panic attack occurs
- Going out in public where they may not be able to exit quickly if symptoms start
- Public transportation (e.g., subway, bus, plane, train, etc.)
- Driving a car
- Attending social events where a panic attack would cause extreme humiliation
- Ingesting items that may induce a panic attack (e.g., caffeine, medications, alcohol, etc.)
- In extreme cases there may be a total refusal to leave their home.
What Happens if it Goes Untreated?
In addition to the fear and constant worry experienced by someone who routinely suffers through panic attacks, there are a multitude of negative effects for an individual’s quality of life. Additional problems that result from repeated panic attacks when left untreated are:
- Development of phobias and intense fears around public situations
- Difficulties in your career or in school
- Other mental health issues such as depression
- Drug or alcohol addiction
- Evasion of social events
- Deterioration of friendships
- Prone to financial dependency on others
- Spend more time in emergency rooms
- Higher risk of suicide
There are a variety of effective treatments for someone in the midst of a debilitating panic disorder:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT works to dismantle negative thought patterns that trigger panic attacks.
- Exposure Therapy. The patient is slowly exposed to sensations related to panic attacks in a controlled environment in order to practice healthy coping strategies.
- Medications. Prescription drugs can be used in the short term to control panic symptoms, but therapy is needed to treat the psychological root cause.
- Avoiding Smoking and Caffeine. Stimulants can induce a panic attack.
- Relaxation Techniques. Activities such as yoga and meditation can teach conscious relaxation.
Conquering Panic Disorder With Effective Treatment
If you or someone you care about is battling frequent panic attacks, there is great hope for a successful recovery. Contact us and we can assist you in finding the most effective panic disorder treatment for your personal needs. We can connect you with some of the most respected treatment programs available in the US today. Give us a call and move one step closer to living a life free of fear