There is too much noise. There are too many people. The room is spinning. My chest hurts… why does my chest hurt? Am I having a heart attack? What is that noise? Is that my heartbeat?
Am I crazy? Am I okay? Am I dying? I think I am dying.
Why can’t I stop sweating? Can anyone else hear my heartbeat?
These are all common thoughts and feelings when someone is struggling with a panic disorder, which can cause panic attacks and episodes.
Most people who experience panic disorders or panic attacks know that many times these experiences come out of nowhere. Often those who have experienced a panic attack due to panic disorder will explain that the fear and anxiety they felt in the moment was overwhelming and paralyzing. They sweat, have trouble breathing, their heart pounds so loud they feel it in their hands or ears.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), in the United States, 1.6% of the adult population, which is more than three million people, will have panic disorder at some time in their lives. They also report that panic disorder impacts 2.4 million people in our country each year. But, why?
The general understanding of the science suggests the cause of panic disorder is unknown. Some scientific evidence points to major life changes or triggers. These can include but are not limited to:
Interestingly, data does suggest that panic disorder, like anxiety or depression, is more likely to occur in those who have a family history of it. Other things to consider when thinking about the causes of mental health disorders in general, panic disorder included, are risk factors.
Risk factors are things that cause you or a loved one to be more likely to experience these disorders, illnesses, or symptoms. Panic disorder risk factors are:
Diagnosis of a panic disorder is done by using the classification outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5). This is a source of classification and diagnosis guidelines for mental illnesses that is used across the world. According to the DSM-5, a person must have recurrent and often unexpected panic attacks and at least one of these attacks needs to be followed by one or more attacks or the fear of more attacks.
This is a disorder that requires a professional diagnosis. This will help rule out other causes of some symptoms like: drug use, medication side effects, other mental disorders such as phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), etc.
Aside from the causes and risk factors related to panic disorders, most people are focused on their signs and symptoms related to panic disorders and panic attacks.
Symptoms can be different depending on the type of panic attack. Often, we think that when it comes to panic or anxiety that it is one-size-fits-all but that is not the case.
Panic attacks themselves usually do not last very long. Most are over within an hour of starting and most reach a peak within the first 10 minutes.
There are two main types of panic attacks that can occur if you have a panic disorder.
One main type is an expected panic attack. It turns out that there are some panic attacks that come on slow. Think of someone who has a fear of flying having a gradually worsening fear that leads to panic during their flight taking off. This is why these usually occur if someone is around what gives them anxiety or fear for a long time.
The other is an unexpected panic attack. These are sometimes called “out-of-the-blue” panic attacks. This is what most of us imagine when we think of a panic attack. These come on quickly with little to no warning.
Panic disorders on the other hand, can include panic attacks as well as some other symptoms. In general some common symptoms of panic disorder are:
Some of these symptoms seem pretty generic and like they can be a result of a lot of other things. This is why it is so important to seek care if you think that you or a loved one may be experiencing a panic disorder.
Medications are often prescribed for those with panic or anxiety disorders. These medications are usually part of a class of medicines known as depressants. These work to counteract the extreme stimulation that is felt during a panic attack.
It is important to remember that these medicines will not cure a panic disorder but studies show that up to 90% of people with panic disorder are helped by therapy and medication in combination. Intensive treatment and therapies usually lasts from six months to one year, although medicine may be required for the remainder of the person’s lifetime.
Some common examples of medications prescribed for these disorders are:
These typically have few side effects, aside from drowsiness and are a common first-prescribed medication for those with panic disorders. Common types of these are:
This type of medicine is the oldest and is still effective for a lot of people. The most common types are:
These are ideal for those who also experience depression that is contributing to the panic disorder. Common types are:
These are newer medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors known as SSRIs that work to change the brain chemistry of the person who takes them. Common medicine names are:
Due to unique chemical reactions to medications, your care team may try drugs individually or in combination until the most effective regimen is found. Some combinations include things like citalopram and clonazepam. It is important to remember, medication is most effective when used alongside therapy.
When it comes to mental illness, a lot of us do not know what to expect when it comes to treatment options. Here at SUN Behavioral Kentucky, we want to be sure that you know and understand your options.
For panic disorders there are a variety of options for care. These include:
Yes. An anxiety attack is classified much differently than a panic disorder. Panic disorders are commonly known as recurrent panic attacks whereas anxiety is a simple fear or overwhelming feeling. Those with anxiety disorders experience this anxiety, fear or worry for prolonged periods of time with no rest.
Yes, a panic disorder is considered a mental illness according to the DSM-5.
The research suggests that formal causes are largely unknown when it comes to panic disorders but there is some small consensus on topics like genetics, environmental factors and experiences.
The capable team at SUN Kentucky has been serving our community for years. Reach out to begin your journey to recovery.