What are Panic Attacks or Panic Disorder?
Panic Disorder is comprised of very intense panic attacks, which last for a short duration (minutes to a few hours at most). The person having a panic attack feels they may faint or even die. Symptoms include chest pains, heart palpitations, hot and cold flashes, feelings of unreality, dizziness, or faintness (although it is extremely rare for anyone experiencing a panic attack to actually faint). A major characteristic of Panic Disorder is an inability to identify any specific cause for the panic. Feelings of powerlessness make each attack even more terrifying and unexpected. Oftentimes, after suffering a panic attack in public, a person feels ashamed or embarrassed, and they begin manifesting anticipatory anxiety. This anxiety can lead to isolating or phobic behaviors and ultimately, social anxiety or agoraphobia.
What causes Panic Attacks or Panic Disorder?
Panic attacks are a type of anxiety disorder. Panic Disorder appears in families, suggesting there is a genetic basis. Panic attacks are also associated with a history of psychological trauma, and attacks may be triggered specifically by factors related to previous trauma. Panic attacks can also occur with seemingly no specific trigger. Specific medical conditions can be associated with panic attacks, including mitral valve prolapse, thyroid problems and hypoglycemia. Persons taking cocaine or methamphetamine, over-the-counter stimulants, or high levels of caffeine have an increased risk of having panic attacks. Stress is often a precipitating factor for panic attacks. Accordingly, Panic Disorder often arises during transitional periods in life such as graduating from college, changing jobs, divorce or even marriage and birth of a child. A history of physical or sexual abuse, or psychological trauma is associated with panic attacks.