Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy and
Marital Therapy Centre

Panic Disorder: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Panic Disorder: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Panic disorder is a common and serious condition which usually emerges in early teenage years. There is no definite cause for Panic disorder. However, it is often triggered by major life events and transitions such as graduation, marriage, or having children for the first time. There is a stronger risk of developing Panic disorder if another family member has the condition.

Even though panic attacks aren't dangerous, they can be terrifying. Attacks occur suddenly, without warning, and usually last for a few minutes. 

Symptoms include:
- Heart palpitations,
- Fearing you are having a stroke,
- Shivering, sweating, shaking,
- Hot flushes, chills,
- A fear of going mad or dying,
- Breathing difficulties, a sensation of not having enough air,
- Dizziness, nausea, light-headedness,
- Chest pain, a choking sensation, 
- Pins and needles in fingers and toes.

How is Panic Disorder Diagnosed?
Recognising this condition requires expertise and Panic disorder should always be diagnosed by a qualified therapist. Many people experience panic attacks at some point in their lives; this does not necessarily mean they are suffering from Panic disorder. Common signs of the condition include having attacks repeatedly and developing a fear about having these attacks. If you have had four or more attacks and are worried that you might have another, you should consult a professional.

What are the Causes of Panic Disorder?
While a genetic predisposition to anxiety disorders might be an important factor, stressful life events such as loss or separation may help trigger the condition. Physiological and psychological factors play an important role in Panic disorder. Sufferers may accelerate and worsen the symptoms of an attack by interpreting physical, such as heart palpitations, inaccurately. Therefore, it is important to address both biological and psychological factors in therapy.

How is Panic Disorder Treated?
If not treated appropriately, Panic disorder can have serious consequences such as social withdrawal, phobias and alcohol and substance abuse. However, with appropriate psychotherapy, panic disorder can successfully be treated. With ongoing therapy, it is possible to recover without permanent complications. In terms of approach, the best treatment for Panic disorder is agreed to be a combination of cognitive and behavioural therapies. If necessary, medication can also be considered.
Education is an important part of therapy. Many people show progress when they learn more about their panic attacks; what causes them and how they can identify triggers. Different techniques and methods can be used in the treatment of panic disorder; these may include cognitive reconstruction, interoceptive exposure, identifying triggers and relaxation techniques. It is extremely important that these techniques are taught by recognised experts only.

How Long Does the Treatment Take?
The success of therapy is very dependent on a patient's motivation and willingness to follow the treatment plan. If carried out consistently, improvements can be noticeable in 10-20 sessions. For further and lasting improvements, a long-term treatment plan should be followed, which may differ from person to person in terms of length.

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