Panic Disorder: What It Is, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by sudden and repeated attacks of fear that may last several minutes or longer. Panic attacks can be terrifying and overwhelming, often leaving sufferers feeling like they are losing control or even dying. In this article, we will explore what panic disorder is, what causes it, its symptoms, and how it can be treated.

What Is Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder is a mental health condition that is characterized by recurrent and unexpected panic attacks. Panic attacks are episodes of intense fear or discomfort that reach a peak within minutes and are accompanied by physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, and a feeling of impending doom or danger.

Panic disorder can be very disruptive to daily life, as sufferers may avoid certain situations or activities in order to prevent another panic attack from occurring. Panic disorder affects approximately 2-3% of people in the United States and is more common in women than men.

Causes of Panic Disorder

The exact cause of panic disorder is not fully understood, but it is believed to be a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors. Some of the risk factors for developing panic disorder include:

  • Family history of anxiety disorders
  • History of physical or sexual abuse
  • Major life transitions or stressful events
  • Substance abuse or withdrawal
  • Chronic medical conditions such as heart disease or thyroid disorders

Symptoms of Panic Disorder

The symptoms of panic disorder can be very distressing and may include:

  • Sudden and intense feelings of fear or dread
  • Rapid heartbeat or heart palpitations
  • Sweating or chills
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath or feeling like you can’t breathe
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or stomach upset
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Feeling like you are going to pass out or die

Diagnosis of Panic Disorder

Diagnosis of panic disorder usually involves a thorough medical evaluation and a psychological evaluation. The doctor may also order some tests to rule out any underlying medical conditions that may be causing the symptoms.

Treatment Options for Panic Disorder

There are several treatment options available for panic disorder, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), medications, lifestyle changes, and alternative therapies.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a type of therapy that focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. It is one of the most effective treatments for panic disorder and has been shown to significantly reduce the frequency and severity of panic attacks.

Medications for Panic Disorder

Several types of medications can be used to treat panic disorder, including antidepressants, benzodiazepines, and beta-blockers. These medications can help reduce the frequency and severity of panic attacks and can also help alleviate other symptoms of anxiety.

Lifestyle Changes and Self-Help Strategies

Making lifestyle changes and practicing self-help strategies can also be helpful in managing panic disorder. Some tips include:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • Avoiding caffeine, nicotine, and other stimulants
  • Practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, or meditation
  • Avoiding alcohol and drugs
  • Learning stress-management techniques

Alternative Therapies for Panic Disorder

Alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage therapy, and hypnotherapy may also be helpful in managing symptoms of panic disorder. However, it’s important to discuss these options with a healthcare professional before trying them.

Coping with Panic Disorder

Coping with panic disorder can be challenging, but there are several strategies that can be helpful, including:

  • Educating yourself about panic disorder
  • Seeking support from family and friends
  • Joining a support group
  • Learning relaxation techniques
  • Seeking professional help when needed

When to Seek Help for Panic Disorder

If you are experiencing symptoms of panic disorder, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. Talk to your doctor or a mental health professional about your symptoms and treatment options.

How to Help Someone with Panic Disorder

If you know someone who is experiencing symptoms of panic disorder, there are several ways you can help, including:

  • Encouraging them to seek help from a healthcare professional
  • Being supportive and non-judgmental
  • Learning about panic disorder and its symptoms
  • Helping them practice relaxation techniques

Prevention of Panic Disorder

While there is no surefire way to prevent panic disorder, there are several things you can do to reduce your risk, including:

  • Managing stress
  • Avoiding drugs and alcohol
  • Exercising regularly
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet


Panic disorder can be a debilitating condition, but it is treatable. By seeking help from a healthcare professional, making lifestyle changes, and practicing self-help strategies, those with panic disorder can manage their symptoms and live a full, fulfilling life.

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of panic disorder, don’t hesitate to seek help. With the right treatment and support, panic disorder can be effectively managed.


Can panic disorder be cured?

While there is no cure for panic disorder, it is a treatable condition. Many people with panic disorder are able to manage their symptoms with therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes.

What are the most common triggers for panic attacks?

Common triggers for panic attacks can include stressful life events, changes in routine or environment, certain medications, caffeine, and drug or alcohol use.

Can panic attacks happen while sleeping?

Yes, panic attacks can occur during sleep. These are known as nocturnal panic attacks and can be very distressing for those who experience them.

How long do panic attacks typically last?

Panic attacks usually last between 5 and 20 minutes, although some can last longer. The physical symptoms of a panic attack, such as rapid heart rate and sweating, may continue for some time after the attack has ended.

Is panic disorder hereditary?

There may be a genetic component to panic disorder, although it is not fully understood. Studies have suggested that having a family history of anxiety or depression may increase a person’s risk of developing panic disorder.


  • “Panic Disorder: Diagnosis and Management” by David H. Barlow, G. Ali Haidar, and Stefan G. Hofmann, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry in 2016, provides an overview of the diagnosis and treatment of panic disorder.
  • “Understanding Panic Disorder” by Michelle Riba and Melvin McInnis, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2015, provides a comprehensive overview of the causes, symptoms, and treatment of panic disorder.
  • “Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia” by Murray B. Stein and David H. Barlow, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2002, provides an in-depth review of the clinical features, epidemiology, and treatment of panic disorder and agoraphobia.
  • “Panic Disorder: A Review of DSM-IV Panic Disorder and Proposals for DSM-V” by Michelle G. Craske, Holly A. Swain, and Murray B. Stein, published in Depression and Anxiety in 2009, provides an overview of the diagnostic criteria for panic disorder and suggestions for revising the criteria for the next version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
  • “Treatment of Panic Disorder: A Systematic Review” by Holly Hazlett-Stevens, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology in 2004, provides a comprehensive review of the efficacy and effectiveness of various treatments for panic disorder, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, pharmacotherapy, and other interventions.

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