50% of all adults have experienced a panic attack at some point in their life. If you are experiencing frequent panic attacks that often occur out of the blue and you are afraid of having more, you may be suffering from panic disorder. The most common fears people with panic disorder have are a fear of dying, going crazy, and/or losing control.
The most common physical sensations people experience during a panic attack are:
- Feeling dizzy, light headed or faint
- Difficulty catching one’s breath
- Rapid, pounding or fluttering heart
- Tightness in one’s chest or throat
- Nausea or abdominal cramping
- Sweating, shaking and trembling
- Numbness or tingling
- Derealization (things don’t seem real) and/or depersonalization (thoughts and feelings seem unreal or not belonging to oneself)
Panic symptoms are similar to physical illnesses like heart attacks. People experiencing panic for the first time often go to the emergency room because they are worried they are having a heart attack. While panic attacks themselves are harmless, it is important to rule out an underlying illness that may cause panic like symptoms.
Agoraphobia is a big word that sounds scary and is often misunderstood. It is the fear of going to places or situations that you may have a symptom attack with no easy way to escape or get someplace you think of as safe. A symptom attack could be a panic attack, diarrhea, a sudden headache, nausea, loss of bladder control, or asthma. You can suffer from panic disorder with agoraphobia, which means you have panic attacks in certain situations as opposed to out of the blue. Common situations that people fear being trapped are:
- Cars, trains, and buses, tunnels, planes, boats
- Standing in line
- Being far away from bathrooms, hospitals, home.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is an effective treatment for panic disorder and agoraphobia. It teaches people how to respond to physical sensations differently and slowly face the situations they have been avoiding allowing them to live more fully with less anxiety.