A ‘Panic Disorder’ describes an individual who suffers long-term, recurring and disabling panic attacks that often strikes without reason or warning.
Distinguishing factors associated with a Panic Disorder can be:
- The presence of recurring and unexpected panic attacks.
- Constant worry, for at least a month after having a panic attack, that you will have a recurrence.
- Constant worry about the implications or consequences of a panic attack. This may include one’s thoughts and fears that the panic attack/s are a sign of an undiagnosed medical problem, causing the individual to seek repeated medical diagnosis and tests despite reassurances by professionals that one’s physical health is ok.
- Significant changes in behaviour that relate to the Panic attacks.
During a panic attack, an individual can suddenly become overwhelmed by the physical sensations described above. These attacks reach a peak within about 10-minutes and usually last for up to half an hour, leaving the individual feeling exhausted.
Panic Disorder often occurs in conjunction with other serious illnesses or conditions, such as Depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or Substance Abuse.
Although the exact scientific cause/s of panic disorder are not fully understood, research and studies have shown that a combination of factors, including biological, physiological, and environmental, may be involved. These factors include, but are not limited to:
- Genetic. Mental illness is more common in individuals whose blood relatives also have a mental illness.
- Major Life-stress, either traumatic events and major life transitions, such as sexual, emotional or physical abuse, death of a loved one, separation from something of physical or emotional connection, divorce, a dysfunctional family, feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, loneliness, social or cultural expectations, a family member’s substance abuse, witnessing or being involved in an accident, or combat.
- Brain Abnormalities to include problems in regulating nerve and cell circuits or pathways that connect and control particular brain regions, such as the fight or flight response. Nerve cells within these nerve and cell circuits or pathways communicate through chemical reactions called neurotransmitters. The use of medications, micronutrients, psychotherapy or other medical or natural procedures can assist the brain circuits to function more efficiently. Also, defects in or injury to certain areas of the brain have also been linked to some mental health issues or conditions.
- Infections have been linked to brain damage and the development of mental illness or the worsening of its symptoms. One such case is known as Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder ( PANDA ) associated with the Streptococcus Bacteria, linked to the development of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder ( OCD ) and other mental illness in children.
- Long-term Substance Abuse can contribute to anxiety ( panic disorder ), depression, and paranoia.
The symptoms of a panic attack may include:
- A fear that you are losing control or about to die
- Chills or hot flashes
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Dizziness or feeling faint
- Intense feeling of dread
- Nausea or stomachache
- pounding heart or chest pain
- Sensation of choking or being smothered
- Tingling or numbness in the fingers and toes
- Trembling or shaking
It is important to re-emphasize that beyond the panic attacks themselves, a key symptom of panic disorder is the persistent fear of having future panic attacks. The fear of these attacks can cause the person to avoid places and situations where an attack has occurred or where they believe an attack may occur. In worse cases, a person may feel they need to be reclusive.
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