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Panic Disorder affects more than 2.4 million Americans. Striking twice as many women as men, Panic Disorder is characterized by unexpected and repeated sensations of extreme fear accompanied by chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, numbness and tingling, dizziness or stomach upset.

Mimicking symptoms of heart or respiratory distress, Panic Disorder is often misdiagnosed or undiagnosed. This failure leads to increased medical costs as well as delay in treatment and relief. Additionally, when left untreated the frequency of episodes seems to increase. Many people with Panic Disorder exist in a near-constant state of anxiety, fearing the next episode.

Panic Disorder often co-occurs with depression and other mental or behavioral health issues. Nearly half of people with Panic Disorder abuse alcohol or drugs, such as cocaine and marijuana, attempting to alleviate their discomfort. Those with dual diagnoses need to simultaneously be treated for substance abuse or depression in order to successfully treat the Panic Disorder. Sadly, one in five people diagnosed with Panic Disorder attempt suicide.

People with
Panic Disorder often have other anxiety- or stress-induced illnesses, such as irritable bowel syndrome, characterized by intermittent bouts of gastrointestinal cramps and diarrhea or constipation. Headache, bursitis, tendonitis and neck or shoulder pains are also common.

People with Panic Disorder often develop phobias about places or situations where they’ve experienced panic attacks; and they often avoid situations and locations where they think another attack may occur, where they may not have quick access to bathrooms, or where help would not be immediately available. This avoidance can develop into agoraphobia, which is an inability to go beyond known and safe surroundings because of intense fear and anxiety.

The exact cause of Panic Disorder is unknown, but research suggests that panic attacks occur when an area of the brain sends in incorrect message that suffocation, thus death, is imminent. There seems to be a genetic component as well as learned patterns of thought that exaggerate relatively normal automatic physical reactions. Stress is also thought to be a factor. Fortunately, effective treatments are available.

The NIMH conducted a large-scale study to evaluate the effectiveness of combining prescription medications with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, finding that 70-90% of treated patients experienced significant improvement after only a few weeks of therapy.

Treatment is available and it works. If you know someone who lives with several of the symptoms listed below, encourage them to get help. Wellness is worth it.

Symptoms of Panic Disorder or Panic Attacks

Fear of dying

Racing or pounding heartbeat

Terror - a sense that something terrible is imminent and prevention is impossible

Chest pains

Dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea

Difficulty breathing

Tingling or numbness in the hands

Sense of unreality or disconnection

Flushes or chills

Fear of losing control, going “crazy,” or doing something emba
rrassing

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