Panic Attacks

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder in which you have repeated attacks of intense fear that something bad will occur when not expected. The cause is unknown. Genetics may play a role. Studies suggest that if one identical twin has panic disorder, the other twin will also develop the condition 40% of the time. However, panic disorder often occurs when there is no family history.

Panic disorder is twice as common in women as in men. Symptoms usually begin before age 25, but may occur in the mid 30s. Although panic disorder may occur in children, it is often not diagnosed until they are older. A panic attack begins suddenly, and most often peaks within 10 – 20 minutes. Some symptoms may continue for an hour or more. A panic attack may be mistaken for a heart attack. Panic attacks may include anxiety about being in a situation where an escape may be difficult (such as being in a crowd or traveling in a car or bus). A person with panic disorder often lives in fear of another attack, and may be afraid to be alone or far from medical help.

People with panic disorder have at least four of the following symptoms during an attack:

(Chest pain or discomfort; Dizziness or faintness; Fear of dying; Fear of losing control; Feeling of choking; Feelings of detachment; Feelings of unreality; upset stomach; Numbness or tingling in the hands, feet, or face; fast heart rate; Sensation of shortness of breath or smothering; Sweating, chills, or hot flashes; Trembling or shaking).

Panic attacks may change behaviour and function at home, school, or work. People with the disorder often worry about the effects of their panic attacks.