Panic disorder is characterized by periodic attacks of anxiety or terror (panic attacks). Panic attacks usually last 15 - 30 minutes, although residual effects can persist much longer.
Panic attacks can occur in nearly every anxiety disorder, not just panic disorder. In other anxiety disorders, however, there is always a cue or specific trigger for the attack. A diagnosis of panic disorder is made under the following conditions:
- A person experiences at least two recurrent, unexpected panic attacks.
- For at least a month following the attacks, the person fears that another will occur.
Symptoms of a Panic Attack. During a panic attack a person feels intense fear or discomfort and experiences at least four or more of the following symptoms:
- Rapid heart beat
- Shortness of breath
- A choking feeling or a feeling of being smothered
- Feelings of unreality
- Either hot flashes or chills
- Chest pain
- A fear of dying
- A fear of going insane
Frequency of Panic Attacks. Frequency of attacks can vary widely. Some people have frequent attacks (for example, every week) that occur for months; others may have clusters of daily attacks followed by weeks or months of remission.
Triggers of Panic Attacks. Panic attacks may occur spontaneously or in response to a particular situation. Recalling or re-experiencing even harmless circumstances that accompanied an earlier attack may trigger subsequent panic attacks.
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