Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia

If you experience intense, seemingly out of the blue panic attacks and are now worried about having more, you may be struggling with Panic DisorderThe three most common fears expressed by people who have panic disorder are:

  • fear of dying
  • fear of going crazy
  • fear of losing control

Panic attacks occur unexpectedly and can even occur during sleep.

A panic attack is a sudden and intense fear or discomfort which reaches it’s peak within 10 minutes and can include the following symptoms:

  • pounding heart, palpitations, or accelerated heart rate
  • sweating
  • trembling or shaking
  • sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  • feelings of choking
  • chest pain or discomfort
  • nausea or abdominal distress
  • feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
  • derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  • fear of losing control or going crazy
  • fear of dying
  • numbness or tingling sensations
  • chills or hot flushes

Many of the symptoms of panic attacks can look like those of physical illnesses such as heart disease, breathing and thyroid problems. Because of this, people who have panic attacks often go to the emergency room because they think they are suffering from a life-threatening illness.  If you have experienced regular panic attacks, it is important to rule out illness that may cause panic like symptoms.

Agoraphobia

A common misconception is that agoraphobia is the fear of leaving ones home. Although people with agoraphobia sometimes become housebound due the intensity of their fears, this is not true for all people with Agoraphobia. When a person avoids places or situations from which escape might be difficult or embarrassing, or if help might be unavailable if they have a panic attack, they are agoraphobic.  About one out of three people who have panic disorder develop agoraphobia.

Common avoided situations include:

  • crowds
  • standing in line
  • bridges
  • traveling in a bus, train, boat or car

To cope with their fears, specific routes or means of travel are identified as safe and any thing outside of this causes significant anxiety.

When people have agoraphobia, their world becomes smaller and smaller.

Treatment

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a highly effective treatment that can reduce the occurrence of panic attacks as well as help people feel less fearful when experiencing panic symptoms.