The basics of panic disorder

It’s not uncommon or abnormal for people to approach certain situations with a degree of fear. For example, no one can be faulted for being a little fearful during an initial foray into base jumping. However, individuals who experience a sudden, unexpected wave of intense fear may be dealing with panic disorder, which elicits more concern than routine jitters.

What is panic disorder?

Panic disorder is a condition characterized by frequent and unexpected panic attacks. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, panic attacks are characterized by a sudden wave of fear or discomfort. Individuals in the midst of a panic attack may feel as though they have lost control, even if there is no clear danger or trigger. Repeated panic attacks is one of the signs of panic disorder, which also can be characterized by significant changes in behavior, such as avoiding places that previously triggered attacks. HelpGuide.org, a nonprofit dedicated to mental health, notes that panic disorder also is characterized by persistent anxiety about future attacks.

Does everyone who experiences a panic attack develop panic disorder?

The NIMH notes that a person will not necessarily develop panic disorder if they have had a panic attack. HelpGuide.org notes that panic attacks may be a one-time experience, though many people experience repeat episodes triggered by specific situations, such as driving across a bridge or through a tunnel. That’s especially true if those situations have triggered attacks in the past.

What causes panic disorder?

The NIMH reports that researchers continue to study how the brain and body interact in people with panic disorder and the role that stress and environmental factors may play in its development. Some researchers think that the survival instincts in people with panic disorder may be active too often or too strongly or some combination of the two. Researchers also note that panic disorder tends to run in families, though no one is certain why some people may develop panic disorder while their close family members don’t.

Stressful events, such as job loss or the death of a loved one, can trigger panic attacks that can potentially lead to panic disorder.

Panic disorder is treatable, and individuals who feel they are dealing with disorder, or those concerned about a previous panic attack, are urged to speak with a mental health professional.

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