Causes, Signs, & Effects of Panic Disorder

Are you concerned that you or a loved one may be struggling with panic disorder? Learn about the causes, signs, and effects to identify whether professional treatment may be necessary.

Understanding Panic Disorder

Learn about panic disorder

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that involves intense moments of fear or panic that seem to occur spontaneously. These moments of fear are often called “panic attacks. These attacks can be profoundly frightening experiences that usually begin unexpectedly, but are often short in duration. Panic attacks may include rapid heart rate, loss of breath, shaking, sweating, chest pain, or feeling detached from the world or one’s own body. Often, individuals who experience this intense sensation fear that they are “going crazy” or that they are dying.

A panic attack occurring once or twice is concerning but possible if an individual is experiencing a highly stressful period in life. On the other hand, multiple episodes of short but intense panic attacks can severely interfere with a person’s day-to-day life. When panic attacks are not isolated incidents, repeated panic episodes trigger worry and concerns about future panic attacks and the consequences that come with it. To ease and minimize the symptoms of panic disorder, individuals suffering from this condition may even change their behavior or lifestyle in an attempt to avoid people, locations, or situations that may trigger panic.

Fortunately, there is help and hope available. There are numerous treatment options available that can help people struggling with panic disorder overcome their strife once and for all.


Panic disorder statistics

According the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, approximately 2% to 3% of adolescents and adults will be diagnosed with a panic disorder every year. Additionally, individuals between 20 to 24 years old have higher chances of getting diagnosed. Women are twice as likely to develop this condition than men, and panic disorder tends to be highest in whites and Native Americans

The good news, however, is as the person gets older, the risk of panic disorder decreases.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for panic disorder

A person’s risk of panic disorder is affected by a number of genetic and environmental factors, including:

Genetic: Like many other mental illnesses, panic disorder tends to run in families. Additionally, individuals whose parents have anxiety, bipolar disorders, or depression are more at risk for experiencing panic disorder symptoms when compared to individuals who do not have similar backgrounds.

Environmental: In addition to genetics, a person’s environment can also affect his or her chances of developing panic disorder. Examples of such environmental risk factors include instances of sexual or physical abuse during childhood, interpersonal problems, death of a family member, disruptions to one’s physical well-being, drug use, or being diagnosed with a disease. Certain health and lifestyle concerns, like smoking, may also increase one’s risk of this disorder.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders, or depression
  • Personal history of sexual or physical abuse during childhood
  • Smoking
  • Respiratory problems such as asthma
  • High sensitivity to anxious situations
  • History of “fearful spells” during childhood
  • Neuroticism
  • Presence of significant stressors in one’s life

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of panic disorder

Panic attacks and panic disorder tend to mirror the body’s natural fight-or-flight response. Because of this, an individual with this type of disorder may experience various symptoms, including:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Avoiding people, places, or situations linked to panic attacks
  • Placing restriction or reorganizing one’s activity or life to make sure that help will always be available in case of a panic attack

Physical symptoms:

  • Shaking
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Choking sensation
  • Rapid heart rate or pounding heart
  • Chest pain
  • Abdominal distress
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Fainting sensation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling chills or heat sensations
  • Numbness or tingling feelings

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Derealization, or the feeling as though the outside world is not real
  • Depersonalization, wherein there is a feeling of detachment from oneself or one’s own body

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Fear of dying
  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  • Persistent concern or worry about present and future consequences panic attacks


Effects of panic disorder

Most mental health conditions require treatment to ease and make distressing symptoms more manageable. If left untreated, panic disorder can have increasingly disruptive effects on a person’s life.

Some of these effects may include:

  • Loss of social support
  • Social withdrawal
  • Poor work performance that could lead to job loss and eventually financial trouble
  • Increased risk of suicidal tendencies
  • Decrease in quality of interpersonal relationships
  • Increased risk of disability

Co-Occurring Disorders

Panic disorder and co-occurring disorders

Unfortunately, various mental health conditions often occur at the same time. This means individuals with panic disorder have a higher risk of developing other mental health conditions apart from panic disorder.

Some of the most common of these co-occurring disorders include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Substance use disorders

Help is always available for this type of disorder. If you are or you know someone experiencing repeated panic attacks, then don’t hesitate to seek treatment as soon as possible.

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