Panic disorder

Alternative Names

Panic attacks

Definition of Panic disorder

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder in which someone has repeated attacks of intense fear that something bad will occur when not expected. The person lives in fear that another attack will occur.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

The exact cause of panic disorders is unknown. Genetics may play a role. Studies suggest that if one identical twin has panic disorder, the other twin will also develop the condition 40% of the time. However, panic disorder often occurs when there is no family history.

Symptoms

A panic attack begins suddenly, and most often peaks within 10 – 20 minutes. Some symptoms may linger for 1 or more hours afterwards. During a panic attack, the person believes he or she is “going crazy,” having a heart attack, or about to die.

Signs and tests

A health care provider will perform a physical examination, including blood tests and a psychiatric evaluation. Medical disorders must be ruled out before panic disorder can be diagnosed.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to help you function well during everyday life. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medications are the mainstays of treatment.

Expectations (prognosis)

Panic disorders may be long-lasting and difficult to treat. Some people with this disorder may not be cured with treatment. However, most people can expect rapid improvement with drug and behavioral therapies.

Review

Fred K. Berger, MD, Addiction and Forensic Psychiatrist, Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc. – 2/14/2010

ADAM Medical Encyclopedia

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