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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.
While the exact causes of panic disorder are unknown, several risk factors may play a role in 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:
If you’ve had at least two panic attacks, discuss them with your Mercy doctor or a Mercy behavioral health provider.
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.
If you’re experiencing repeated panic attacks and think you may have panic disorder, share your concerns with your Mercy doctor. Although no specific lab test can diagnose panic disorder, your doctor may have you complete self-evaluations, assessments as well as ask questions regarding your symptoms. After your diagnostic evaluation, your doctor or therapist will reference the DSM-5 to determine if you meet the diagnostic criteria for panic disorder.
Your doctor may refer you to a Mercy behavioral health professional to ensure you get the best possible care. Therapy can help you manage thoughts and behaviors that contribute to panic attacks. A combination of the following programs is often used to treat panic disorder.
CBT for panic disorder teaches you skills to manage anxiety, and it’s effective for treating panic disorder. CBT can be done individually or in a group of people with similar issues. You’ll learn how to change the unhealthy thoughts and behaviors that can bring on a panic attack.
Exposure therapy is sometimes used to treat anxiety disorders by helping you face your fears in a controlled setting. It helps treat external fears (of objects, activities and situations) and internal fears (thoughts and physical sensations) by gradually reducing your reaction to them.
Medications may also help with panic disorder. Your Mercy doctor will discuss your options and may prescribe medications, in addition to therapy. Some of these can be taken for years, while other medications work better in the short term.
Alternative medicine such as therapeutic yoga, massage or meditation may also help reduce your panic and anxiety symptoms.
Lifestyle changes like limiting caffeine and alcohol, exercising regularly and practicing deep breathing can help with managing panic attacks.
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