Panic disorder is the most easily-identifiable anxiety disorder. The sufferer of panic disorder experiences acute episodes of overwhelming fear. A non-specific anxiety or sense of dread pervades, and multiple specific intense fears will be manifest. Commonly, the panic disordered individual will terrified during the attack of dying. This may be specific to a concern about a heart attack, asphyxiation, or may be a general feeling of threat to mind and well being. Many people feel that they are losing their mind because of the panic attacks.
Panic disorder cannot owe it’s symptoms to drug use, whether illicit, over the counter, or prescribed. If the panic attacks can be attributed to the onset of drug use or to the withdrawal from drug use, then panic disorder is not the appropriate substance, but rather substance-induced anxiety disorder.
The panic attacks associated with panic disorder have some peculiar characteristics to them. First, the panic attacks cannot have any reliable trigger. This is known as a situationally unbounded panic attack. The panic attacks must, to the panic disordered person, seem to appear out of nowhere. Second, there must be a response to panic attacks of significant fear about potential future panic attacks. Second, the panic attacks must extremely acute episodes, and must not be long lived. A typical panic attack lasts for less than ten minutes. Although there is a sharp ramp-up in severity and it will peak within ten, the aftereffects will be felt for many hours, and often days due to the flood of stress hormones and neurotransmitters related to the panic attack which have significantly impacted physiology.
There are specific criteria which define a panic attack. These include both mental and physical symptoms
- There are heart palpitations present (racing heart)
- Dizziness, and fear of or actual fainting
- A feeling of choking and not being able to breathe
- Chest pains, often interpreted as a potential heart attack
- Nausea or intestinal pains
- Shortness of breath
- Shaking or tremors, easily seen in the hands but can involve the whole body
- Feelings of depersonalization or derealization
- Hot flashes or conversely cold chills
- Numbness or tingling felt in the fingers or legs, known parasthesia
- Tunnel vision