disorder characterized by recurrent and unpredictable bursts of terror known as panic attacks. A panic attack is accompanied by physical symptoms that may feel similar to a
or other life-threatening condition.
Intense anxiety often develops between episodes of panic. As panic attacks become more frequent, people begin avoiding situations that could trigger them. Panic attacks can lead to
, which is the fear of unknown places.
Scientists continue to look for the exact cause or causes of panic disorder. It is believed to be related to:
Other biological factors
Stressful life events
Increased sensitivity to physical sensations
These factors increase your chance of developing panic disorder. Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors:
Age: young adult
History of another anxiety disorder
Family history of panic disorders
Panic attacks usually occur unexpectedly and repeatedly. They include many of the following symptoms:
Sudden and intense episodes of fear
Racing, pounding, or skipping heartbeat
Chest pain, pressure, or discomfort
Difficulty catching breath
Choking sensation or lump in the throat
Lightheadedness or dizziness
Tingling or numbness in parts of the body
Chills or hot flashes
Shaking or trembling
Feelings of unreality, or being detached from the body
An urge to flee
Fear of impending doom, such as death, a heart attack, suffocation, loss of control, or embarrassment
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Since some panic disorder symptoms are similar to heart, digestive, and/or thyroid problems, a physical exam and tests can rule out physical causes of your symptoms.
Tell your doctor about your physical symptoms and how the symptoms make you feel. Your doctor will want to know if your attacks keep you from your normal activities. You should also tell your doctor if you:
Please note FDA Public Health Advisory for Antidepressants:
The FDA advises that people taking antidepressants should be closely observed. For some, the medications have been linked to worsening symptoms and suicidal thoughts. These adverse effects are most common in young adults. The effects tend to occur at the beginning of treatment or when there is an increase or decrease in the dose.
Although the warning is for all antidepressants, of most concern are the SSRI class such as:
National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health website. Available at:
. Accessed October 14, 2005.
*¹8/22/2006 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
: Furukawa TA, Watanabe N, Churchill R. Psychotherapy plus antidepressant for panic disorder with or without agoraphobia: systematic review.
Br J Psychiatry.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a