Panic disorders are anxiety disorders typically portrayed by sudden and unforeseen panic attacks which recur over extended periods of time. These panic attacks are accompanies by uncontrolled fear of impending doom, paralyzing terror and unwarranted worry as well as physical symptoms which may include rapid heartbeat and palpitations, clamminess and perspiration, dizziness and weakness, tingling or numbness of the fingers and toes, dyspnea (shortness of breath), chest pains, trembling and shivering, hot flashes or sudden chills, abdominal distress, cramping of muscles and hyperventilation.
Most individuals who suffer from panic disorders usually experience panic attacks which last around ten minutes but such attacks may also last shorter than five minutes or longer than twenty minutes. In extreme cases, panic attacks will not abate until there is some medical intervention. In yet other extreme cases, panic attacks of fluctuating duration may roll into one another and last for hours with varying symptoms and intensity. Many sufferers of panic disorders experience such bouts of panic attacks daily or weekly and the ramifications of these outwardly visible indications may cause them embarrassment and lead to social isolation and the stigma which often comes with such psychological disorders.
To make matters worse, nearly forty percent of people who have panic disorders also have agoraphobia which is another anxiety disorder that brings on sudden dread about having a panic attack in strange and unknown settings from which there is no quick and easy way of escaping. This often results in sufferers confining themselves to their “safe” home environments and thus become further isolated. Or in milder cases, this leads to avoidance of public or unfamiliar places.
Causes and Risks of Panic Disorders
There is no single known cause for panic disorders but it is believed with certainty that genetic predispositions are very strong factors which contribute to the development of panic disorders, as they tend to run in families. It is also believed that panic disorders may be caused by some biological break downs but those have not yet been identified. Very stressful or distressful events such as the loss of a loved one have been noted to weaken the body’s resistance and to trigger hidden predispositions to panic disorders and onsets of panic attacks.
Panic disorders usually make their appearance during the late teen years or early twenties and they seem to affect all racial and ethnic groups equally. However, for reasons which were not determined thus far, women are twice as prone to panic disorders as are men.
Treating Panic Disorders
The good news is that panic disorders lend themselves to very successful treatments. Both, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the American Medical Association (AMA) agree that the best means of treating panic disorders is through the combination of therapy and medications:
1/ Cognitive and behavioral therapies. Cognitive therapy reconstructs the thought process and helps sufferers replace existing thoughts with more realistic and positive ones. Behavioral therapy desensitizes the sufferer to the actual experience of panic attacks.
2/ Relaxation therapy. This technique teaches sufferers to relax through controlled deep breathing and thus get through panic attacks with more ease. Ultimate, this technique enables sufferers to prevent their panic attacks.
3/ Support groups. Sharing like experiences has proven to be extraordinarily helpful to sufferers of panic disorders.
4/ Medications. Psychopharmacological medications such as antidepressants (SSRIs, MAOIs, tricyclic antidepressants) and/or anti-anxiety drugs (benzodiazepines) are most helpful when they are dispensed along with therapy.