What are Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder?
As a psychiatrist in Scottsdale, I treat a lot of patients suffering from panic attacks and panic disorder. A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there may or may not be any real danger or apparent cause. When a panic attack occurs, you might feel like you’re losing control, experience the inability to swallow, feel like you’re choking, or having a heart attack and even dying. Many patients will go to the Emergency Room when they have these symptoms of a panic attack and are often given a benzodiazepine to calm them down and alleviate the symptoms. When panic attacks recur in one’s life with some regularity they are referred to as a panic disorder. The quick unset of the panic attack with seemingly no apparent environmental causes seems to be telltale symptom that differentiates a panic attack or disorder from other anxiety disorders. The severity coupled with the relatively short duration of the anxiety are also distinguishing features of a panic attack versus GAD generalized anxiety disorder. Panic attacks are relatively short lived and sometimes only minutes in duration whereas the symptoms of GAD are long term and less severe or acute in nature.
Nearly 20% of the adult population in the US has suffered from a panic attack at some point in their lives and nearly 1.7% of adult Americans suffer from panic disorder. Women seem to be twice as prone panic disorder than men (this is similar with depression as well). Often these panic attacks seem to first manifest between the ages of 15 and 20. Although panic disorder occurs twice as often in women versus men in adults, boys and girls tend to experience panic disorder at the same rate.
Some of the most common symptoms of panic attacks and panic disorder are dizziness, chest pains, choking, headaches, sweating, nausea, chills, problems swallowing or breathing, palpitations or erratic heartbeat, numbness, fear of losing control in formal settings, fear of dying, or back pain. Panic attacks in children may result in the child’s grades declining, avoiding school and other separations from parents, as well as substance abuse, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Panic attacks can occur while you are asleep and may manifest as nightmares and dreams of being out of control.
Once somebody has experienced a panic attack they will often try to avoid the situations that ostensibly triggered them and even develop a phobia from this avoidance. This avoidance can then become disabling in that some will avoid shopping, driving, crowds, and become reclusive and prisoners to their homes.
The Causes and Treatments For Panic Attacks or Panic Disorder
Panic attacks and panic disorder can be caused by environmental issues, physiological issues, or both. These causes of panic disorder are similar to the causes of most mental illnesses. Other factors that may play a role are genetics, brain injury, drug use, medications, thyroid conditions, diabetes, and other ostensibly non-related medical conditions. Panic disorder can be treated with medication, diet, exercise, behavioral modification, EMDR and counseling. Some individuals have found SAM-e to be very helpful for panic attacks. Sometimes just carrying an anti-anxiety pill in the purse or wallet is enough to prevent and minimize a panic attack. Read more about treating panic disorder. If you are seeking treatment for panic attacks or panic disorder from an experienced Scottsdale psychiatrist; please contact me through this website to schedule an appointment. I have been a psychiatrist in Scottsdale since 2001 and love treating panic disorder. I find it very rewarding and often see such great effects with the treatments that are available.