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PANIC DISORDER

People with panic disorder experience recurrent, unexpected, panic attacks. A panic attack can be described as an intense, sudden rush of physiological sensations (e.g., racing heart, difficulty breathing, sweating, chest pain). Panic attacks typically last for about 10 minutes, but in rare cases can last an hour or more. Because panic attacks tend to be unexpected, people with panic disorder worry that these attacks are an indication that something is wrong with them physically or mentally. In between attacks there is often intense anxiety about the risk of having another attack. This fear can lead an individual to avoid activities and restrict behaviors. In some cases, individuals can only perform certain activities in the presence of a "safe person", who can assist them in case of an attack. Panic attack symptoms can include:

  • Pounding/racing heart

  • Sweating

  • Trembling or shaking

  • Shortness of breath

  • Feelings of choking

  • Chest pain or discomfort

  • Nausea

  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, or faint

  • Chills or heat sensations

  • Numbness or tingling

  • Feelings of unreality

  • Fear or losing control or "going crazy"

  • Fear of dying


Although many people experience these symptoms at some point in their lives, individuals with panic disorder live in fear of experiencing these symptoms and experience them frequently. For some individuals panic attacks may originally be cued by certain environmental features. Later, they might occur without any predisposing stress or identifiable cues. It is also possible to suffer from discrete panic attacks and not suffer from panic disorder. It only becomes a disorder when the individual suffers from recurrent and uncued attacks, begins to fear the possibility of having another attack, or fears the consequences of an attack (e.g., going crazy, having a stroke), and shows significant impairment in functioning.

DO YOU HAVE PANIC DISORDER?

Many of the symptoms associated with Panic Disorder are similar to those experienced in acute medical crisis, such as a heart attack, and individuals frequently seek immediate medical attention only to be told that their problems are psychological, not medical. Indeed, many individuals with panic disorder have had repeated medical tests and have sought several "second opinions" because it is difficult to believe that one can experience such intense symptoms and not have a medical illness. Unfortunately, many individuals with panic disorder also begin to "self-medicate" their anxiety through the use of alcohol and drugs. 

If you suffer from frequent panic attacks and are very concerned about experiencing these symptoms, you may qualify for a diagnosis of Panic Disorder. You can call our clinic at (850) 645-1766 or email us at abhcfsu@psy.fsu.edu for an evaluation with one of our mental health professionals to determine whether you meet for this diagnosis.

Fortunately treatments for panic disorder are among the best researched and most effective types of therapy. Studies have shown that with proper treatment, 70-90% of panic disorder patients will show improvement. 

Alternative medical treatments (i.e., medications) are also available and can be used in conjunction with psychological therapies. For many, significant improvement occurs within 6 to 8 weeks. For more information on treatments available at our clinic, please see the Treatment web page.