Panic disorder is diagnosed in people who experience spontaneous, seemingly out-of-the-blue, panic attacks and are preoccupied with the fear of a recurring attack. Panic attacks occur unexpectedly, sometimes even during sleep.
Experiencing a panic attack doesn’t necessarily mean you have panic disorder. Panic disorder is characterised by repeated and unexpected panic attacks that severely disrupt your life. Suffering from a panic disorder may involve worrying about future panic attacks and changing your behaviour as a result, such as avoiding places or situations where panic attacks have previously occurred.
A panic attack is an intense rush of fear or anxiety that reaches a peak within a few minutes and includes at least four of the following symptoms:
- a feeling of imminent danger or doom
- the need to escape
- heart palpitations
- shortness of breath or a smothering feeling
- a feeling of choking
- chest pain or discomfort
- nausea or abdominal discomfort
- dizziness or light headedness
- a sense of things being unreal, depersonalization
- a fear of losing control or “going crazy”
- a fear of dying
- tingling sensation
- chills or heat flush
Panic Disorder With Agoraphobia
Panic disorder can lead to agoraphobia when people stop going into situations or places in which they’ve previously had a panic attack in anticipation of it happening again. People typically avoid public places where they feel immediate escape might be difficult, such as shopping centres, cinemas, theatres and public transport.