Panic Attacks, Panic Disorder and Clinical Agoraphobia

Panic attacks are generally characterized by a sudden powerful surge of an overwhelming fear and severe anxiety. It’s almost like someone hit the “panic” button, and often times the triggers are unclear and without reason. There are no age, sex or health status discrepancies; everyone and anyone can experience a panic attack. While many of these occurrences happen only once or twice in a patient’s life, there are people who have panic attacks much more often.

Chronic panic attacks are most commonly associated with a particular trigger; speaking in public, boarding a plane, etc. In particular, panic attacks are sometimes associated with other forms of mental illness such as depression, social phobias and panic disorder. The patient experiences such dreadful and realistic symptoms, they may fear their lives are in danger, however panic attacks are generally harmless and even better, treatable.

Symptoms of Panic Attacks

Panic most usually happens away from home. Grocery stores, in class, at work and in the car are common places for panic attacks, although that is certainly not a complete list. The symptoms develop rapidly and peak time is usually at about 10 minutes. Its rare for a panic attack to last longer than 30 minutes, but extremely rare that they last over an hour. Patient’s experiencing panic attacks often show symptoms of:

  • Increased heart rate/palpitations
  • Chest pains
  • Shortness of breath/hyperventilation
  • Upset stomach, nausea
  • Trembling/shaking of extremities and even the whole body
  • Muscle tension/stiffness
  • Profuse sweating
  • Hot/cold flashes
  • Tingling and numbness of feet and hands
  • Incredible fear of dying or death
  • Out of body experience, detached

Panic Disorder

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Panic attacks are the action and panic disorder is the chronic occurrence of panic attacks. Basically anyone is subject to an occasional panic attack; wedding day, big event, etc. But if these happen on a more regular basis in association with fear and anxiety of the next attack, it may be panic disorder. Two major symptoms are seen in panic disorder patients: phobic avoidance and anticipatory fear/anxiety.

A person who avoids certain situations or places that are known or believed triggers is considered phobic avoidance. Places where an escape route isn’t available are often avoided as well. For instance, elevators and airplanes offer no real means of exit that can be controlled by the patient. In extreme cases, the patient may even become agoraphobic.

Panic Disorders with Associated Agoraphobia

Open spaces and public places are the agoraphobics worst nightmare. Literal interpretation is “fear of the marketplace”. Medical professionals however, actually believe this phobia takes place when the patient experiences severe anxiety and panic in certain situations and places where they feel help cannot readily be sought or there is no quick escape route. Those with agoraphobia will usually avoid the following:

  • Being any distance, great or small, away from home (safe-zone)
  • Driving
  • Confined spaces, i.e., elevator, bus, airplane, cars
  • Social gatherings where a panic attack might prove embarassing

All three, panic attacks, panic disorder and clinical agoraphobia, are related and categorically different. A diagnosis can only be made by a qualified health professional and various forms of treatment are available.

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About Jennifer Johnson

I suffered with social anxiety and stress for years. I discovered what my triggers were and learned to control them. Hopefully some of the natural anxiety relief techniques I have tried, will also be your solution.

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