Exploring Anxiety Disorder: Panic Disorder

Posted by on May 21, 2015 in Anxiety Treatment

Exploring Anxiety Disorder: Panic Disorder

A number of disorders fall under the classification of Anxiety Disorder. Anxiety disorder is the second most common type of mental illness in the Unites States. According to research an estimated 25% of the population will experience some type of symptom typical to anxiety in their life time. In this blog series we will focus on Panic Disorder, including Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia. What makes someone who is experiencing some sort of anxiety on a daily basis different from someone who is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder? The answer to this popular question, is the severity of the symptoms been demonstrated. In order to accurately diagnosis and distinguish an anxiety disorder from normal anxiety, one should explore the duration, frequency, antecedents and consequences of the specific symptom.

Anxiety affects the way one feels about a situation, or event, and can take on a variety of both emotional and physical symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms of anxiety are rapid heart beats or heart palpitations, sweating, tingling and numbness, shortness of breath, and feelings of choking. These symptoms are very real and can be frightening for the individuals that are experiencing them. An accurate diagnosis of the specific anxiety disorder is necessary for proper treatment.

Panic Disorder
Panic disorder is characterized by recurrent, unexpected panic attacks followed by persistent worry about having another attack for at least one month. A panic attack can be described as an episode of intense fear of the sudden onset of an attack which usually is over in approximately one minute of its occurrence. Fear and avoidance of situations or events associated with the attacks are also very common. The fear of such an attack usually borders on terror and is usually accompanied by unpleasant body sensations, including endorsing feelings of intense catastrophe, and endorsing difficulty reasoning. Some individuals describe their experience as having a “heart attack”.

Panic attacks can be unpredictable (uncued) with little or no known cause by any specific trigger. Some panic attacks however can be cued, and is caused by exposure to specific stressors, or situational predisposed element. An example of a cued panic attack is when an individual is
exposed to a triggering situation such as a spider, or other animals that are feared. A predispose situation can be referred to a panic attack where the individual develops a conditioned response to the origin of a panic attack, and eventually avoids any situation where they feel the attack could occur. Other panic attacks are classified as nocturnal, where one wakes up from sleep in a state of panic.

Symptoms specifically related to Panic disorders includes shortness of breath, dizziness, heart palpitations, chest tightness and fear of death. Panic attacks can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, it peaks usually within one minute and it usually leaves the individual feeling drained and spent. It is usually not caused by any specific external event. However researched states that most individuals have attributed their first panic attack to a significant stressful event.

Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia
Agoraphobia can be described as anxiety that occurs when one is anxious about being in a place or situation where escape might be difficult, or being in a place where help may not be readily available if one has an unexpected panic attack, or experience panic like symptoms. Individuals who suffer from agoraphobia usually have difficulty being out side of their home alone, in a crowd or other public places especially where the space may be confined.

Time is also a determining factor of panic disorder with agoraphobia. The individual has to be suffering from recurrent unexpected panic attacks. One of the attacks must be followed by one month or one or more of the following three symptoms, persistent concerns about having additional attacks, worry about the meaning of the attack or the change in behavior due to the attack.

Research indicates that an estimated lifetime incidence for Panic Disorder is 5.3% with approximately one third suffering from Agoraphobia. The onset age is estimated between adolescence and mid-30s. Research also suggests that Panic Disorders occur twice as much in the 25-44 age group. Research suggest that the strongest predictor of agoraphobia is gender, where women tend to be more agoraphobic than men. The mean age of onset is between 23 to 29.

A structured treatment plan is recommended to treat Panic Disorders. Psychoeducation is vital for the individual as well as all involved family members and supporters for treatment of Panic attacks with and without agoraphobia. Research indicates that medication can be effective to help alleviate panic attacks. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) has also shown to be effective in treating panic disorders. Certain components of CBT seem to be effective including education, breathing retraining, and cognitive restructuring. Treatment for agoraphobia usually includes exposure techniques and training, specifically focused on addressing avoiding behaviors and of situations.

Please note that the subject discussed here is not to be used for diagnosis purposes. If you believe you may be suffering from an Anxiety Disorder please seek professional help immediately.