Panic Disorder


What is Panic Disorder?

It can strike without warning – a sudden and intense rush of terror with powerful symptoms like a racing heart, chest pain, trouble breathing, stomach upset, dizziness and feeling out of control or unsafe. You’re having a panic attack – and if it’s your first, you may even mistake it for a heart attack. Some people have just one or two panic attacks. But if you have repeated attacks, worry about them frequently and go out of your way to avoid them, you could have panic disorder – a type of anxiety disorder.

Panic Disorder Causes & Risk Factors

While the exact causes of panic disorder are unknown, several risk factors may play a role in panic disorder. 

  • Your genetic makeup
  • The use of alcohol and substances as a way to cope with panic disorder symptoms can worsen them
  • Medical conditions such as thyroid disease and others can make you especially susceptible
  • A family history of panic disorder
  • People who have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder often have panic disorder, however it’s uncertain whether one condition causes the other

Symptoms of Panic Disorder

People who have panic attacks don’t necessarily have panic disorder. Symptoms of a panic disorder include frequent, unexpected panic attacks along with four or more of the following signs:

  • Chest pain
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling like you’re choking or being smothered
  • Immediate need to flee or get fresh air
  • Hot flashes or chills
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • Nausea or stomach pains
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Feeling odd, unreal or detached
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy
  • Fear of death or dying
  • Frequently recalling past attacks and feeling desperate to avoid another

If you’ve had at least two panic attacks, discuss them with your Mercy doctor or a Mercy behavioral health provider. 

What is the Difference Between Panic Disorder & Panic Attack?

Panic attacks are more common than panic disorder. Approximately 1 in 10 American adults have them every year, and about 1 in 3 will have one in their lifetime. Panic disorder is more unusual. Only 3% of adults have this condition, and it affects more women than men.

Diagnosis & Treatment for Panic Disorder

If you're experiencing signs of panic disorder, it can be overwhelming. Mercy's behavioral health experts are here to help.

Learn about panic disorder diagnostic & treatment options.  

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