Panic disorder is diagnosed as occurring with or without
agoraphobia. Agoraphobia involves a fear of having one of these intense panic
attacks in a place or situation where it would be very difficult or embarrassing
to escape. Often times, the fear associated with agoraphobia can lead to many
avoidance behaviors. By limiting one’s ability to be in certain situations,
people with agoraphobia often experience feelings of loneliness as well as an
overall diminished quality of life.
The following describes panic attacks, the main feature of panic disorder.
Agoraphobia that may or may not occur with panic disorder is also explained.
Additionally, learn more about the importance of getting help for panic disorder
and popular treatment options.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, 4th edition,
text revised (DSM-IV-TR) is the handbook used by mental health specialists for
diagnostic purposes. Professionals who treat panic disorder use the criteria set
forth in the DSM-IV-TR to determine a person’s diagnosis.
Listed here are the diagnostic criteria for panic attacks as outlined in the
DSM-IV-TR. Panic attacks are experienced as four or more of the following
Heart palpitations or accelerated heart rate
Trembling or shaking
Shortness of breath
Feeling of choking
Nausea or abdominal pain
Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
Derealization or depersonalization
Fear of losing control or going crazy
Fear of dying
Feelings of numbness or tingling sensations
Chills or hot flashes
The symptoms of panic attacks typically occur spontaneously and peak within the
first 10 minutes before gradually subsiding. However, these symptoms have the
potential to last longer. Additionally, numerous panic attacks can occur one
after the other, making it difficult to fully recognize when one attack has
ended and another one has began.
According to the DSM-IV-TR, approximately one-third of people with panic
disorder will also develop agoraphobia. People with agoraphobia are afraid that
they will have some anxiety symptoms or a full-blown panic attack in a place
where it would be very challenging or embarrassing for them to flee. This
condition can lead to avoidance behaviors, in which they try to stay away from
all places or situations in which they may have a panic attack.
The avoidance behaviors associated with agoraphobia can greatly restrict a
person’s life. People with agoraphobia often develop groups of feared situations
that are related. For example, many people with agoraphobia become extremely
upset and uncomfortable in areas where there are many people in a confined
space. This fear may limit them from standing in line at a store, going to a
movie theater, or traveling on an airplane. Other common feared situations for
people with agoraphobia include forms of travel, being alone, and open spaces.
These fears may result in an inability to even leave their homes.
While many people with agoraphobia can face their feared situations, it involves
intense stress and anxiety. The symptoms of agoraphobia often limit the person’s
day-to-day functioning and restrict where they can work, shop, or travel.
Panic disorder is a condition that causes many disturbing mental, physical, and
emotional symptoms. Despite these intense symptoms, panic disorder, panic
attacks, and agoraphobia are all treatable conditions. Given that agoraphobia
typically develops within the first year a person begins to have abrupt panic
attacks, it is important to seek out help early on. However, treatment can
provide much improvement, even for those with long-term symptoms.
Prescribed medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of these methods are the
most common treatment options for panic disorder. Medications for panic disorder
can assist with reducing the severity of panic attacks and reducing feelings of
anxiety. Psychotherapy can aid in developing new ways of thinking and behaving
that help a person cope with their symptoms. Relaxation techniques are also
often used as strategies to overcome panic attacks. By seeking appropriate
treatment, a person with panic disorder can learn to manage their symptoms and
regain control over their lives.