Panic disorder is characterized by a sudden onset of recurrent physical sensations called a panic attack. Individuals who suffer with panic disorder regularly experience panic attacks, or rushes of intense fear, anxiety, or discomfort that seemingly come from out of the blue, for no apparent reason. Importantly, not everyone who experiences panic attacks will develop panic disorder. During a panic attack an individual may experience several physical symptoms such as: dizziness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, or numbness.
Often, there is a persistent fear of when the next panic attack might occur, and afflicted individuals will try to avoid or escape situations they have come to associate with panic attacks. Panic attacks can result in frequent visits to medical facilities and frequent absences from work or school. Panic disorder affects roughly 2% to 3% of adolescents, and 2% to 3% of adults in the general population. It can appear at any age, but most often develops by young adulthood.
Agoraphobia involves the experience of intense fear or anxiety in a wide range of situations, such as when using public transportation, being in open spaces or enclosed spaces, standing on line or being in a crowd, or being away from home alone. Individuals with agoraphobia may worry that something terrible will happen in these situations, or they may fear that they will not be able to escape or get help in the event that they experience panic-like or incapacitating symptoms. In extreme cases, agoraphobia can cause individuals to become homebound and dependent on others for basic needs. Agoraphobia affects approximately 2% of adolescents and 2% of adults in the general population. Agoraphobia typically develops in late adolescence or early adulthood, although it can occur at any age.
Symptoms of Panic Disorder:
- Chills or hot flushed
- Pounding heart, Chest pain or discomfort
- Fear of dying or having a heart attack
- Shortness of breath or smothering sensations
- Feeling faint
- Feeling detached from one’s self
Situations individuals with agoraphobia may avoid:
- Expressway traffic
- Physical exercise
- Group activities
Treatment for panic disorder includes exposure practices inducing the physical symptoms associated with panic until a patient gets used to them and stops feeling anxious, called Interoceptive Exposure. Exposure therapy can also include the practice of overcoming the fears posed by the real life situations that usually end with avoidance. Exposures occur in office and out of office as necessary approximate the most real situations, which means your therapist will accompany you during shopping, driving, exercise or other activities that panic takes place. Cognitive therapy can also be used to help identify and change fearful or catastrophic beliefs that underlie anticipatory anxiety.