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Symptoms of Panic Disorder

People with panic disorder have some combination of the following symptoms:

  • Sudden and repeated attacks of fear
  • A feeling of being out of control during a panic attack
  • An intense worry about when the next attack will happen
  • A fear or avoidance of places where panic attacks have occurred in the past
  • Physical symptoms during an attack, such as a pounding or racing heart, sweating, breathing problems, weakness or dizziness, feeling hot or a cold chill, tingly or numb hands, chest pain, or stomach pain.

Accurately Diagnosing Panic Disorder

Panic attacks can occur at any time, even during sleep. It is a misconception that panic attacks are always triggered by an intense fear of something. Many people experience panic attacks as seemingly random, without any identifiable trigger. A full panic attack usually peaks by ten minutes, with most panic attacks lasting significantly shorter. There is nothing inherently dangerous or even abnormal about having a panic attack. Many people fear it puts a strain on their bodies, and thus fear panic attacks even more. However, the strain a panic attack puts on the heart is comparable the impact of walking up one flight of stairs. 

Accurate diagnosis of panic disorder is incredibly important, as the right diagnosis can lead to the most effective treatment. Individuals who experience repeated panic attacks can become disabled by their condition and are advised to seek treatment before they start to avoid places or situations they fear will trigger another panic attack. For instance, if a panic attack happened in a grocery store, someone with panic disorder may develop a fear of public places that could affect where that person can work, seek medical attention, or enjoy entertainment. About one-third who choose not to seek treatment become housebound.  When the condition progresses this far, it is called Panic Disorder With Agoraphobia,  which is a fear of open spaces due to panic attacks.

Early diagnosis and intervention and cognitive behavioral treatment can usually prevent panic disorder from developing into agoraphobia. Unfortunately, many with the disorder avoid psychological intervention, remaining undiagnosed and suffering in silence, seeking numerous medical appointments, or frequently visiting emergency rooms. This is unfortunate, as panic disorder is one of the most treatable of all the anxiety disorders, with some studies indicating about 90% of people with panic disorder who undergo cognitive behavioral therapy show a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms after just 12 sessions. 

Panic disorder can be accompanied by other serious conditions, such as depression and alcohol or drug abuse. Research suggests these conditions may need to be treated separately, although it is not uncommon for other psychological problems to remit once the panic disorder is effectively treated. Psychologists are most qualified to accurately diagnose and treat panic disorder. 

At Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Los Angeles, we are experts in treating and diagnosing panic disorder. Call or email today for an appointment with an anxiety specialist.