Panic disorder brings on panic attacks, in which feelings of terror strike suddenly and repeatedly, without warning. Many people who have the condition visit the emergency room, thinking they are having a heart attack, or see several doctors before obtaining a correct diagnosis. Proper treatment helps the majority of people with the disorder, usually within six to eight weeks.
People with panic disorder have recurrent, unexpected feelings of extreme fear and dread that strike for no apparent reason, causing their heart to race, rapid breathing, sweating, and shakiness. These "attacks" can send people to the hospital believing they are having a heart attack. A panic attack may even occur when the person is not in a situation that would normally create stress, anxiety, or fear.
People with panic disorder often avoid places where they've had panic attacks and, in severe cases, may become housebound. Two to 4 percent of the people in America suffer from panic disorder.
People with panic disorder can't predict when a panic attack will occur, and many develop intense anxiety between episodes, worrying about when and where the next one will strike.
Common symptoms of panic disorder include:
- Pounding heart
- Feeling sweaty, weak, faint, or dizzy
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or smothering sensations
- A sense of unreality
- Hot flashes or chills
- Hands may tingle or feel numb
- Feeling flushed or chilled
- Fear of impending doom or loss of control.
You may genuinely believe you're having a heart attack or losing your mind, or that you're on the verge of death.
Panic attacks can occur at any time, even during sleep. A panic attack generally peaks within ten minutes, but some symptoms may last much longer.