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Panic Disorders (Attacks): Symptoms, Causes, and Its Treatments

Editor's Note: This article has been recently updated with latest information and research studies.

What are Panic Disorders?

Panic disorder is a form of anxiety disorder in which a patient experiences a series of panic attacks. In most people, episodes of panic attacks occur once or twice in their life time. However, if you experience recurrent panic attacks, you are suffering from this condition known as panic disorder. This disorder is characterized by changes in behaviors and worries about impending attacks from unknown sources with episodes lasting for over a month.

What are Symptoms of Panic Disorder?

You may experience panic attack at any time or place. There are no preliminary signs to indicate that you are about to experience a panic attack. Within ten minutes after it strikes, it will be full-blown and the severed conditions can last for hours. Common symptoms of panic disorder include strong feelings of an imminent attack, fear of death, increased heartbeat, breathlessness and shakiness. You might also feel nauseated, sweat and abdominal pains. Other symptoms may include chocking, dizziness or headaches. Though there is relief* after recovery, the fear of a recurrent panic attack becomes so imminent such that you might even avoid staying alone or leaving your home.

What Causes Panic Disorder?

There are no known exact causes of panic disorder although there is a tendency of its occurrence in families. This is attributed to genetic factors. Panic disorders also show a strong connection with major life events such as after graduation, new job or after delivery in women. Extreme stressing conditions such as financial difficulties, loss of a spouse or divorce can lead to panic attacks. There is a strong connection of some medical conditions that act as triggers of panic disorder. These include hyperthyroidism and low blood sugar. Use of stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamines or withdrawal from some medications or an addiction can also bring about panic disorders.

Understanding Comorbidity With Depression and Panic Disorder

In over a half of patients who experience panic disorder, they will exhibit symptoms of major depression which make it more difficult to diagnose and treat*. You may be suffering from depression and experience panic attacks at the same time. Subsequent panic attacks could eventually lead to major depression if untreated. This comorbidity of depression and panic disorder leads to proliferation of mental illness symptoms of either depression or panic disorder eventually increasing* thoughts of suicide.

Distinguishing Between Panic Disorder and Depression

To distinguish between panic disorder and depression, the best approach would be to tell about the differences in their symptoms.

Panic Disorder: Once you experience a panic attack, you become so much worried about what will happen next. At least you live with the fear that the future is there but you focus much on impending dangers and threats. You may avoid staying alone or leaving your house for fear of the unknown. You are afraid of dying from your condition especially due to its effect in the first instance.

Depression: You don’t actually care what the future holds for you coz you are already desperate and hopeless. You feel miserable and out of control* about your life. There is no hope at all of anything good in the future. Unlike in with panic disorder, there is little or no worry and you will most likely be contemplating about suicide.

How is Depression and Panic Disorder Diagnosed?

If your physician detects possible symptoms of panic disorder and depression, he/she will conduct a complete medical history evaluation. You will then undergo an examination to ascertain possibilities of its occurrence as a result of a physical illness. In absence of physical symptoms, you will be referred to mental health professionals who employ specifically designed tools and interview procedures. He/she will enquire about the intensity, frequency, duration and severity of your conditions and then evaluate your mental and physical reactions to these symptoms. From these assessments, your psychotherapist will determine if the symptoms amount to panic disorder or depression.

What Treatments are Available for Depression and Panic Disorder?

The treatments options available for depression and panic disorder involve one or a combination of the following:

Psychotherapy: This is a type of counseling which involves an assessment of your reactions to a mental disorder. Psychotherapy is conducted by a trained mental professional referred to as a psychotherapist. Your mind is programmed to respond in a certain way when you experience a mental disorder.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: It is a kind of therapy that helps you identify possible triggers of panic disorder or depression. You will be taught how to adjust your thoughts when such triggers become imminent. This therapy enables you to control* your reactions when you are faced with a difficult situation.

Antidepressants: Antidepressants are medications used in the treatment of panic disorder and depression. They function through adjustments of chemicals responsible for moods in your brain. Examples include serelax , Zoloft, paxil, Xanax , Activan among others. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor will help you in choosing the best and effective treatment option