Panic attack and panic disorder

Meaning and concept

“Panic attack refers to the situation in which people suffering from abrupt and recurring attacks of frightening situation that last for several minutes or longer.”

A panic attack is an unexpected or sudden episode of extreme fear that triggers rigorous physical and physiological reactions when there is no authentic threat or apparent reason. Panic attacks can be very terrifying. When panic attacks occur, one might believe that he/she is losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.

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Panic attacks are characterized by a fear of tragedy or of losing control even when there is no actual threat. An individual may also have a strong physical response during a panic attack which may feel like racing heartbeat or a heart attack. Panic attacks can happen at any point of time, and many people with panic disorder are anxious about the possibility of having another panic attack.

Panic disorder is diagnosed in those individuals who experience impulsive apparently out-of-the-blue panic attacks and are extremely preoccupied with the dread anxiousness of a recurring panic attack.

People with this disorder survive in fear of having repeated panic attacks. One may sense to suffer from a panic attack if he/she experiences sudden onset of overwhelming fear but with no obvious cause. Also termed as ‘phobia‘.

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Panic disorder is one of the anxiety disorder in which one usually have sudden attacks of panic or fear. Although it is usual to be stressful in dangerous situations but if an individual begins to feel anxious, stressed out or panicking on regular basis out of no apparent reason, then it leads to the situation of panic disorder.


As per the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, an estimated 6 million residents of USA are suffering from panic disorder resulting from panic attacks.

According to the information of American Psychological Association, 1 out of every 75 people experiences a panic disorder.

Women are more likely to experience this situation and it usually occurs when an individual is in early adulthood, from ages 18 to 25 years.

About 2-3% of American residents experience panic disorder in a year and it is double as frequent in women as compared to men.

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Panic attacks can also be related with agoraphobia (fear of places which the person considers it to be hazardous or risky to escape from). People who have experienced a panic attack frequently mention it later than they felt trapped in an anxious situation.

At times the signs and symptoms linked with a panic attack can contribute to other medical circumstances. Some of the instances are heart conditions, lung disorder or thyroid issues.

Anxiety is even the root cause of that situation where a heart attack needs an emergency medical attention and treatment which signifies that anxiety and panic attacks may lead to somatic diseases. Another fact says that panic attacks are very much treatable and does not indicate that an individual is a hypochondriac or mentally ill.

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Signs and Symptoms

  • racing heartbeat
  • stressed out nature
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Chest pain and discomfort
  • feeling detached
  • Chest or stomach pain
  • Dizziness and feeling lightheaded
  • Using washroom multiple times
  • Fear of losing control or feeling as if a person is “going crazy”
  • Ringing sound in one’s ear
  • Feelings of choking
  • Hot flushes or sometimes chills
  • Heart palpitations
  • Nausea
  • Anxiousness
  • Dry mouth
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Low and depressed mood
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Sweating
  • Shaky limbs
  • Frustrations
  • Losing control over one’s body
  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
  • Feeling and getting fainted
  • Experiencing a sudden fear of dying

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  • Genetics
  • Major stress
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Certain changes in the way parts of the brain function
  • Temperament that is more sensitive to stress or prone to negative emotions
  • Major depression
  • Overthinking

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Risk factors regarding panic attack

Some of the major factors that may amplify the threat of increasing panic attacks or panic disorder comprise:

  • Major life stress, such as the demise or severe illness of a loved one
  • Family history of panic attacks or panic disorder
  • History of childhood physical or sexual abuse
  • Smoking or excessive caffeine intake
  • Major changes in one’s life, such as a divorce or an unplanned child
  • A traumatic event, such as sexual harassment or a severe accident

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The American Psychiatric Association (APA) publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) which has a listed criterion to help a medical professional to diagnose mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression or panic disorder, and it aims to provide a standard for diagnosis across the nation.

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The major criterion for diagnosing a panic disorder comprise:

1. Experiencing recurrent and unexpected panic attacks

2. Having panic attacks that are not attributable to take certain medications or having another mental health disorder, such as social phobia

3. Having at least 1 month of constant terror of having a panic attack and its associated signs and symptoms, such as losing control, trembling, sweating, racing heartbeats etc. An individual may considerably change his/her behavior for fear of having a panic attack in a public setting.

Therefore, an individual who has these signs & symptoms is probably suffering from a panic disorder.

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Some of the major therapeutic treatment are:

1. Cognitive Behavioral therapy (CBT): This therapy helps the client to get a realistic view of his/her fearful state of mind. In this, the irrational thoughts stuck in one’s mind is replaced with rational ones resultant of which he/she come to know that his/her fears have no apparent reason.

2. Behavior Modification techniques: This therapy is used to modify one’s false behaviors and habits into correct ones with the help of reward and punishment. Techniques like flooding, shaping, contingency management, token economy etc. can be used as per the appropriateness of the situation in order to lower down one’s panicking state and which ultimately reduces panic attacks and panic disorder.


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3. Systematic Desensitization (SD): In this technique, two opposite emotions (fearless and fearful i.e. positive and negative) are simultaneously given to the client, backed by progressive muscle relaxation so that the strong emotion remains intact whereas the weak one vanishes. This is how irrational fears are reduced and stopped.

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4. Talk therapy: This therapy helps client to share his/her thoughts and feelings with the therapist and on the other hand, therapist tries to develop an insight in client regarding the irrationality of his/her fearful thoughts. This lowers down the intensity of panic attacks and resultant panic disorders.

Other treatments

Some of the ways to manage and tackle a panic attack are here under:

  • Deep breathing
  • Recognizing that one is genuinely having a panic attack
  • Use muscle relaxation techniques like PMR
  • Engage in light exercise, workout and meditation
  • Practice mindfulness to reduce the panicking state
  • Repeat or chant a mantra internally
  • Find a focus object in order to get diverted from unwanted triggers
  • Close your eyes so that you can dodge the triggering stimuli as well as in order to get relaxed in such situation
  • Imagine your happy place to nullify the effect of triggering stimuli
  • Use fragrance to embrace positivity out of it
  • Ask for psychologist and take proper counseling and psychotherapies

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Conclusively, this was a brief understanding, meaning, concept,  signs and symptoms, causes, risk factors, diagnosis and treatment of panic attacks and panic disorders.

Hope you find the above information beneficial.

If in case, you or your loved one is suffering from any such issue, you can contact us or visit our website.

panic attack

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