Some Facts About Panic Disorder

We all experience panic. It is a normal human reaction to any life-threatening situation, like when you’re trapped in an elevator inside a burning building. But some people are paralyzed by intense, pure terror even in non-life-threatening situations. This is a symptom of a deeper mental problem called panic disorder. Many suicidal deaths have been related with panic disorder.

Unlike schizophrenics who immediately seek professional help, people with panic disorder tend to be secretive about it and they may not even know that they have it. For no apparent reason, this disorder is more common among females, outnumbering males by 2:1.

A panic attack is not the kind of panic we are all familiar with. It engulfs you with or without a triggering factor and it happens episodically. Each attack could last from 20 to 30 minutes. The physical manifestations include chest pains, sweating, smothering, nausea, dizziness, or trembling. They are accompanied by feelings of overwhelming fear and thoughts that you are having a heart attack, losing control, going crazy, or going to die.


They are in good health. As observed by doctors working with patients confined in mental institutions, what’s so peculiar about people with this disorder is that patients are medically cleared. They are not suffering from a heart failure, or any respiratory problem.

They are not crazy. Well, not yet. Because of the terror they experience in every attack, people with panic disorder think they’re already going insane. The person may feel that everything is unreal. They may feel that something has changed, either in their body or in their surroundings.

They fear fear itself. Panic attacks occur episodically. In a week’s time this person can have two episodes. In between episodes a fear is developed that the attack will happen again – it is the fear of the episode itself. They always anticipate the episode.


Panic attacks often have an impelling quality: the patients feel they must do something – run, hide, scream or get away—although what they are to do or where they are to go is as unclear as the reason for their terror.

If a person with panic disorder is not crazy, then what exactly is wrong? Why did he or she end up with it?

Dependent personality

Usually, a patient with a panic disorder syndrome experienced loss of support during a critical life episode in the past. If you have a dependent personality and you suddenly lose all your support that would be one reason.

A person with a history of traumatic separation from parents, loved ones, or family is prone to panic disorder. It is likened to the feelings of a child who is with a mother and gets lost. Imagine the anxiety and terror in the child who is feeling very helpless and totally not in control of the situation. Some people cannot cope with separation well.

Traumatic events

In the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 3rd Edition, the American Psychiatric Association says that increased exposure to distressing life events triggers the illness in vulnerable individuals.

It could be in the blood.

People go through all the same trials—separation from loved ones, traumatic events, disasters, yet why do most people don’t develop panic disorder?

The key word is “predisposition.” There are people who are more prone to it; the same way that there are people who will develop hypertension regardless of dieting.

Moreover, studies reveal that more than half of panic disorder patients have close relatives who have some anxiety disorder. In the case of an identical twin, experts say that if one has panic disorder, there is a 90% chance that the other one also has the disorder.

The acid did it.

When people exercise, some produce too much lactic acid in the body. This acid is the one that gives us cramps. He says that people who are prone to rapid accumulation of lactic acid are also prone to panic disorder.

A shrinking brain

Comparing people with and without panic disorder, psychiatrists saw that there is some shrinking of the brain among those with the disorder. Furthermore, an increase in metabolism of that person brings an increase in circulation in a particular area of the brain.


One very interesting theory on the cause of panic disorder was drawn by David Clark, a psychologist from Oxford, England. According to him, panic may simply be a wrong interpretation of normal bodily sensations. For example, when you’re anxious about something, it is natural to feel your heart racing. But when you overreact and think of it as a possible heart attack, it would make you even more anxious, your heart pounds more. This terrifies you, you break into a sweat, feel nauseated, gasp for breath—all symptoms of terror, but for you they’re merely signs of a heart attack. A full-blown panic attack is under way, and the root of it is your misinterpretation of the symptoms of anxiety as the signs of your impending death.

Unlike schizophrenia, panic disorder is an illness that is treatable. It is not something to be kept secret. See a psychiatrist immediately, should these symptoms be bothering you.

© 2010 Athena Goodlight

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