Panic Disorder & Agoraphobia

Panic disorder is diagnosed in people who experience spontaneous seemingly out-of-the-blue panic attacks and are preoccupied with the fear of a recurring attack. Panic attacks occur unexpectedly, sometimes even during sleep.

Panic disorder typically develops in early adulthood. It is three times more common in women than in men.

Agoraphobia
Some people stop going into situations or places in which they’ve previously had a panic attack in anticipation of it happening again.

These people have agoraphobia, and they typically avoid public places where they feel immediate escape might be difficult, such as shopping centres, public transportation, or large sports arenas. Their world may become smaller as they are constantly on guard, waiting for the next panic attack. Some people develop a fixed route, and it may become impossible for them to travel beyond their ‘safety zones’ without suffering severe anxiety.

About one in three people with panic disorder develops agoraphobia.

Symptoms
A panic attack (or anxiety attack) is defined as the abrupt onset of intense fear that reaches a peak within a few minutes and includes at least four of the following symptoms:

  • a feeling of imminent danger or doom
  • the need to escape
  • heart palpitations
  • sweating
  • trembling
  • shortness of breath or a smothering feeling
  • a feeling of choking
  • chest pain or discomfort
  • nausea or abdominal discomfort
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • a sense of things being unreal, depersonalization
  • a fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  • a fear of dying
  • tingling sensation
  • chills or heat flush

Since many of the symptoms of panic disorder mimic those of illnesses such as heart disease, thyroid problems, and breathing disorders, people with panic disorder often make many visits to emergency rooms or doctors’ offices, convinced they have a life-threatening illness.

Source: Anxiety Disorders Association of America

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