What is panic disorder?


Back-to-Directory A health article about panic disorder from Mental Health Problemsdealing with Health Problems & nutritional Self Care Strategies

Panic disorder is an illness where a person experiences panic attacks in situations where most people would not be afraid.

It’s a beautiful sunny day and all is right with your world when without warning you’re hit with a panic attack.

There's no monster under your chair, no earthquake opening the road to swallow your car and no instant terminal illness. Yet you feel wrapped in total terror and unable to shake it.

You can literally feel your heart crashing against your rib cage. Your hands are sweaty and your grip is weak. Feeling like your head is spinning, you have to pull over to the side of the road because you’re certain that you're going to pass out.

If this happens at work or while shopping in the grocery store, and you begin clutching your heart, some good Samaritan will notice that you’re turning pale and looking deathly ill.

Chances are someone will dial 911 and the drone you’ll hear will be the ambulance coming to pick you up. At the emergency room, you’re instantly surrounded by heart monitors and the defibrillator is on stand-by.

Even to medical personnel, you look like a heart attack about to happen or in progress. Only after all the tests are in do they realize that what's really happened is a panic attack.

The entire incident may have lasted only an hour or two, but to you it feels like an eternity. You leave the hospital exhausted and embarrassed.

Panic disorder usually begins in young adulthood, around ages 18-25. It may begin after a traumatic event like an auto accident, getting stuck in an elevator or losing a job.

Yet for many of the 6 million people who have panic disorder, there's no clear reason why it started. One thing is common – every one of them feels helpless to stop it.

First you need to know that panic disorder is a real mental health problem, not something that you made up or use when you want attention. Those are things other people say to you, but that's not medically accurate.

Talk to your doctor about what’s happening to you. You may want to learn how to control situations like this using a form of hypnotherapy, counseling, or psychiatric medications.

Share what's happening to you with your significant other, a trusted friend and your boss, if you feel the confidence will be respected. Panic attacks are so unpredictable that you need support from family and friends who can help you reinforce what you learn during treatment.

You’ll learn how to use relaxation, visualization, breathing exercises and redirected self-talk to stand your ground against a panic attack. In time, you will find it easy to manage panic and get back to doing things without fear of interruption.

Panic disorder is a dysfunction of the normal panic/anxiety reaction that would occur if you were in actual danger.

Panic attacks occur when the body gives off the same distress signals, as when a person is faced with a life-threatening or dangerous event, yet no such trigger is present.

This means that a person may be sleeping, relaxing or just going about their daily business, when they suddenly feel some or all of the symptoms of a panic attack.

These include: chest pain, trembling legs, the person feeling they are going crazy or that they are about to have a heart attack.

Physical symptoms of panic attack include:

• Breathing difficulties

• Heart palpitations

• Chest pains

• Feelings of choking

• Dizziness

• Sweating

• Trembling, weakness

• Fear of dying, losing control or going crazy

• Shortness of breath

• Nausea

• Hot and cold flushes

• Feelings of unreality

• Tingling

Panic attacks are described as a terrifying experience. Feelings of apprehension, fear that something really terrible is happening may also be present.

Individuals with panic disorder often display characteristic concerns about the implication or consequences of the panic attacks. For example, that a panic attack may signify a major illness, or that the person is losing control or going crazy.

Panic disorder typically begins between late adolescence and the mid-thirties. The frequency and duration of panic attacks vary widely. Some individuals have moderately frequent attacks (e.g. once a week) that occur regularly for months at a time.

Others experience short bursts of more frequent attacks (e.g. daily for a week) separated by weeks or months without any attacks. Panic disorder may also co-exist with depression, generalised anxiety disorder and personality disorders.

Panic disorder can occur with or without agoraphobia. Some people with agoraphobia do not have panic attacks, and many people with panic disorder do not develop agoraphobia. But large numbers suffer from both.

Certain illegal drugs, such as marijuana, and other substances, such as caffeine, can trigger panic attacks as can fear of a specific object or social situation.

Panic disorder is an illness where a person experiences panic attacks in situations where most people would not be afraid. Panic disorder is a dysfunction of the normal panic/anxiety reaction that would occur if you were in actual danger. Panic Disorder is one of the anxiety disorders.

Panic attacks occur when the body gives off the same distress signals that occur when a person is faced with a life threatening or similar event yet no such trigger is present.

This means that a person may be sleeping, relaxing or just going about their daily business when they suddenly feel some or all of the symptoms of a panic attack including- chest pain, trembling legs the person may feel they are going crazy or that they are about to have a heart attack.


A psychologist or other mental health professional is able to make an assessment regarding your anxiety and /or panic disorder and either treat it or inform you regarding the options available for treatment.

Panic Disorder is highly treatable and most people who seek treatment will resume normal activities within a couple of months although for some it may take longer. Medication is also available and this is best used in conjunction with therapy.

There is also a page here for learning about Anxiety Disorders: https://www.thehealthsuccesssite.com/anxiety.html


• Anxiety Disorders Alliance on 02 9570 4126 or 1800 626 077

• General Practitioner

• Community Health Centre (see listing in the White Pages)

• Australian Psychological Society (APS) 1800 333 497 for a referral to a psychologist in your area.

• Mental Health Information Service (02) 9816 5688 or toll free1800 674 200 (Outside Sydney metro) for referral to services in your area.

More articles below here will help to explain this mental health problem further:

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The information provided is to be used for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for seeking professional care in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders. Information may be reproduced with an acknowledgement to the Mental Health Association NSW. This, and other fact sheets are available for download from www.mentalhealth.asn.au. This fact sheet was last updated in Autumn, 2002.

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