Panic Disorder Studies
What is Panic Disorder?
1.5 to 3.5% of people worldwide suffer from panic disorder. The essential feature of panic disorder is the presence of recurrent, unexpected panic attacks, or rushes of acute anxiety, characterized by some the following symptoms:
The frequency and severity of panic attacks among those who suffer from panic disorder vary widely. Some people regularly experience panic attacks for months a time; some experience short bursts of more frequent attacks and then go for months without having another attack; others have attacks less frequently over a period of years.
After having a panic attack, many people persistently worry about when their next attack might occur. Some people find themselves avoiding situations that they believe will bring on panic attacks. Other people may avoid situations they feel would be difficult or embarrassing to escape from in the event that a panic attack occurred. If this avoidance of situations is severe enough, it is called agoraphobia.
People who have panic attacks often share common concerns about their panic attacks. Some fear that the attacks may be a symptom of an undiagnosed life-threatening illness. Others worry that they are “going crazy” or that they will “lose control” of themselves when they have panic attacks.
Symptoms of Panic Disorder
The symptoms of panic disorder can vary widely from person to person in nature and severity. However, there are some common features:
- Recurrent, unexpected panic attacks
- Persistent concern about when the next panic attack might occur.
- Worry about the implications of the attack or its consequences (e.g., fears of losing control, having a heart attack, or going crazy)
- Changes in everyday behavior related to the attacks, such as avoiding certain situations that might trigger an attack. This avoidant behavior may meet the criteria for agoraphobia.
"Agoraphobia" means literally “fear of the marketplace”. Along with stores, shopping malls, and crowded public places, people with agoraphobia often fear and avoid situations such as being away from home, standing in line, being on a bridge, and traveling in a bus, train, or car. They often have a “safety zone”, or area where they feel most comfortable. This safety zone is typically larger if the people with agoraphobia are accompanied by someone they trust. Some people with agoraphobia are able to endure these situations, but feel a great deal of distress. Research has shown that people with agoraphobia fear and avoid these situations because they fear that escape from these situations would be difficult or embarrassing in the event that they had a panic attack and wanted to get out or go home.
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