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Panic Disorder

- Summary
- About panic disorder
- Types and differences
- Potential causes
- Signs and symptoms
- Diagnosis methods
- Treatment options
- Prevention methods
- Questions for your doctor

Reviewed By:
Andrea Bradford, M.D., M.M.M.
Tahir Tellioglu, M.D., APA, AAAP
Steven A. King, M.D.


Panic disorder is a condition in which a person regularly experiences panic attacks , which are commonly experienced as sudden, brief episodes of fear and anxiety which cause symptoms such as a racing heartbeat, heavy perspiration and shortness of breath. About 6 million Americans aged 18 and older suffer from a panic disorder at some point in their lifetime, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Panic disorder is among the most common anxiety disorders. In most cases, people with panic disorder experience panic attacks that occur seemingly at random, but may be associated with particular situations, such as crowded rooms or high places. Panic disorder is diagnosed when a patient has experienced one of the following after at least one attack during a period of at least one month:

  • Ongoing concern that attacks will continue

  • Worry about the potential significance and impact of an attack

  • Change in behavior to avoid future attacks

About one in three patients diagnosed with panic disorder also suffers from agoraphobia, which is an inability or unwillingness to venture beyond comfortable surroundings due to fear of intense anxiety.

Panic disorder is a serious, potentially debilitating condition. Left untreated, it can have devastating consequences, with 20 percent of patients attempting suicide according to the National Mental Health Association.

For those who do seek help, panic disorder is usually highly treatable. Cognitive behavioral therapy techniques are particularly effective, and may be as effective as medication in the short term. However, in the majority of cases, a combination of therapy and medications is the most effective treatment.


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Review Date: 08-08-2007

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