When you suddenly get a call from your child’s school, informing you that the child has fallen sick and that you should reach school early and collect the child before normal dispersal time, it is but natural, to feel anxious and worry. When you are in the elevator, alone, and it suddenly stops mid-way, with the light turning off, it is but natural to feel scared and be worried. But in these circumstances, if you find your heart pounding, your head feeling dizzy or you suddenly get the feeling that you are going to lose control and start screaming, or worse, have a heart attack and die - then you should probably consider a consultation for Panic Disorder.

Panic Attacks generally occur without warning and can even occur when you are sleeping. Generally a person, who experiences one such attack, always remains fearful and apprehensive about another such attack and generally tends to avoid the place or situation where they had the first panic attack. A panic attack is the abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes and includes at least four of the following symptoms:

  • Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  • Feelings of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
  • Chills or heat sensations
  • Paresthesia (numbness or tingling sensations)
  • Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  • Fear of dying

Since many of the symptoms mimic those found in heart disease, thyroid problems, breathing disorders, and other illnesses, people experiencing panic attacks often make numerous visits to the emergency room or to doctors’ offices, convinced they have a life-threatening illness.

Different forms of psychotherapy are effective in the treatment of Panic Disorders. Exposure therapy, in which patients confront their fears, helps diminish the fear and complications caused by fearful avoidance. For example, patients who fear that they will faint during a panic attack are asked to spin in a chair or to hyperventilate until they feel dizzy or faint, thereby learning that they will not faint during an attack. Cognitive-behavioral therapy involves teaching patients to recognize and control their distorted thinking and false beliefs and to modify their behavior so that it is more adaptive. For example, if patients describe acceleration of their heart rate or shortness of breath in certain situations or places and fear that they are having a heart attack, they are taught the following:

  • Not to avoid those situations
  • To understand that their worries are unfounded
  • To respond instead with slow, controlled breathing or other methods that promote relaxation
Panic Disorder
Panic Disorder

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