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What is Panic Disorder?

Panic Disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by sudden rushes of fear, known as panic attacks, combined with persistent worry about the future recurrence of a panic attack. Many people often mistake a panic attack for a heart attack or other life-threatening medical emergency due to the intensity of the feelings that go along with panic. Sometimes concern about future panic attacks becomes so severe, people reduce their activity and stop engaging in important functions such as going to work, or even leaving the house. When panic attacks cause one to no longer feel comfortable leaving the house, they may have a disorder known as panic disorder with agoraphobia, a more severe form of panic disorder.  

What Causes Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder?

We know panic disorder has a strong genetic component as it often runs in families. However, it is clear that stress and other environmental factors play a large role. Often panic disorder develops after someone experiences a panic attack for the first time. The experience is so out of the ordinary, and so frightening, that people worry about a future recurrence. Usually, it is this increase in worry and anxiety about future panic attacks that makes one more susceptible to additional panic symptoms, in turn causing more worry, and thus more panic.

People with panic disorder tend to be very vigilant to physical symptoms that are similar to panic. For instance, some people after walking up a flight of stairs notice their heart beating slightly more rapidly, which then increases anxiety about having a panic attack. Or just sitting in a warm room feels similar to feeling flushed when anxious, causing an increase in fear of imminent panic. Because these people are so sensitive to any physical symptom that is out of the ordinary, it maintains the cycle of anxiety and panic attacks.

Who Can Develop Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder occurs in approximately 6 million American adults and is twice as common in women as men. The panic attacks themselves usually begin in adolescence or early adulthood, although not everyone who experiences panic attacks will develop panic disorder. Many people have just one attack and never have another, or go on to develop additional symptoms. Research suggests proneness to develop panic attacks appears to be inherited.

At Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Los Angeles, we are experts in the field of anxiety disorders. Call or email today for an appointment with an anxiety specialist.