What is panic disorder?

Panic disorder

Panic disorder is a pattern of repeated, unexpected panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden, strong feelings of fear or anxiety along with symptoms like shortness of breath, dizziness, or a pounding heart.

A panic attack is scary, but it isn't life-threatening. Counseling and medicines can reduce or get rid of panic attacks.

What happens when you have panic disorder?

If panic attacks happen often, they are called a panic disorder. People with panic disorder may:

  • Feel exhausted from lack of sleep.
  • Use drugs or alcohol. This may help them numb their fears or give them a false sense of courage to face feared situations.
  • Have depression.
  • Have extreme fears (phobias).
  • Have other anxiety disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Have trouble relating to other people in social settings because of intense feelings of anxiety.

Panic attacks may continue for years, especially if you also have agoraphobia (avoiding places where you fear another attack will occur). These attacks can be mild to severe. You may have long periods of time without panic attacks. And you may have other periods of time when attacks occur often.

Panic disorder may last a lifetime. Most people who have panic disorder get better with treatment. But the attacks can come back, especially if treatment is stopped too soon.

What are the symptoms of panic disorder?

Symptoms of panic disorder may include:

  • Repeated, unexpected panic attacks.
  • Worry that you'll have another attack. Because of this fear, you may change your daily activities to avoid situations that may trigger it.

Some people have a fear of being in crowds, standing in line, or going into shopping malls. They are afraid of having another panic attack or of not being able to escape. This problem is called agoraphobia. It can be so bad for some people that they never leave their homes.

People who have panic disorder often have depression at the same time.

Who can diagnose and treat panic attacks and panic disorder?

The following health professionals can diagnose panic attacks. They may work together with other health professionals to treat panic attacks and panic disorder:

  • Emergency medicine specialist
  • Family medicine physician
  • General practitioner
  • Physician assistant
  • Nurse practitioner

Treatment for panic attacks and panic disorder may also be provided by a:

  • Psychiatrist.
  • Psychologist.
  • Licensed mental health counselor.

Many community mental health centers, hospital outpatient clinics, and family service agencies have treatment programs for people with panic disorder.

How can support groups help you cope with panic disorder?

Support groups are often good places to share information, problem-solving tips, and emotions related to panic disorder. Online discussion forums and websites may also offer information and support. Self-help materials can help you learn to cope with panic disorder or anxiety. These include instructional videos, books, and audio materials.

What is panic disorder?

If panic attacks happen often, they are called a panic disorder. You may have panic disorder if you have at least two unexpected panic attacks, worry about having another attack, and avoid situations that may trigger it. Counseling and medicines can help treat this disorder.

Helping someone recover from panic disorder

If someone you know is getting treatment for panic disorder, you can offer ongoing help as the person takes steps to recover from it. Here are some things you can do.

  • Allow the person to proceed in therapy at their own pace.
  • Be patient.

    Praise all efforts toward recovery, even if the person isn't meeting all of the goals.

  • Stay calm.

    Don't panic when the person panics.

  • Accept the current situation.

    But know that it won't last forever.

  • Take care of yourself.

    Remember that it's okay to be concerned and anxious yourself.

When a person has panic attacks, the entire family is affected. If someone in your family has panic attacks, you may feel frustrated, overworked, or socially isolated. These feelings are common. Family therapy, a type of counseling that involves the entire family, may help.

Panic attacks and panic disorder in children: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child cannot stop from hurting themself.

Where to get help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

If your child talks about suicide, self-harm, a mental health crisis, a substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress, get help right away. You can:

  • Call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
  • Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
  • Text HOME to 741741 to access the Crisis Text Line.

Consider saving these numbers in your phone.

Go to 988lifeline.org for more information or to chat online.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child mentions suicide. If a suicide threat seems real, with a specific plan and a way to carry it out, stay with your child, or ask someone you trust to stay until you get help.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child has symptoms of anxiety that are new or different.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.