We all present reactions of fear and anxiety to the stressful events of daily life, but panic attacks are different. Panic disorder is a serious condition that unpredictably affects a person’s life. The symptoms of panic disorder consist of sudden attacks of fear and nervousness, as well as physical symptoms of sweating and tachycardia. It is called panic attack to a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions despite no real danger or apparent cause, causing the person an uncontrollable desire to flee or ask for help. When a panic attack occurs, the person may feel in danger of dying, losing control, going crazy, fainting or having a heart attack, without these dangers being real. As can be seen, during a panic attack, the fear reaction is apparently disproportionate to the situation, which usually poses no danger (going on a transport, crossing a bridge, being in a shopping center, etc.).
The first panic attack is usually brief, can last minutes, and is triggered by some stressful event such as a breakup, a conflict at work, a period of abuse of caffeine or a drug, etc., or by a condition such as depression greater or alcoholism. After a first panic attack, the person develops a constant fear of having another panic attack, which leads to aggravate the situation affecting the daily functioning and quality of life of the person.
Among phobic anxiety disorders, panic disorder (with agoraphobia) is the most frequent and one of the most disabling. It is characterized by a pathological fear resulting from a form of perception and pathogenic reaction of reality, which triggers intense anxiety in the person. It is a psychological problem that can be defined as “fear of fear”
Panic Disorder With Agoraphobia
The panic disorder can become incapacitating for the person, it can lead to the abandonment of any activity that requires a minimum of effort, responsibility or personal exposure, such as work, hobbies, parties, etc. People who suffer from TP may become unable to go out alone or stay home alone. Any stimulus, however minimal, is transformed into an alarm signal that triggers terror. As we can see, it can become an unbearable situation both for the person who suffers it and for those around it.
The panic experienced in this crisis causes the avoidance of situations or feared places, eventually leading to agoraphobia (phobia of public spaces), to the point of being able to be confined at home.
What is Agoraphobia?
Traditionally, agoraphobia refers to fear of public places or open spaces. However, lately it is believed that agoraphobia is a complication that develops in panic attacks. It refers to a fear of having a panic attack and to the manifestation of avoidance behavior to places or situations where it may be difficult to escape or call for help in case of panic attack or panic related symptoms. Frequently, certain places are avoided such as: the streets, the shops, waiting lines, crowded places, the metro or metro bus, closed spaces such as elevators, tunnels, theaters, cinemas, bridges.
What is Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia?
Certain people who have recurrent panic attacks modify their behavior in an important way, for example abandoning their work. Fears of having a new attack and its implications are often associated with the development of avoidance behaviors (avoid taking the bus or going to shopping centers) can refer to agoraphobia criteria. In these cases, a panic disorder with agoraphobia is diagnosed.
Characteristics and Statistical Data
✤ People suffering from panic disorder are the biggest consumers of sedatives and anxiolytics.
✤ Panic attacks cause terror but physically cause no harm. They tend to become very intense very quickly and disappear with or without medical help (drugs).
✤ Around 4% of the population will experience panic attacks during their lives. People who suffer repeated attacks require an evaluation by a mental health professional.
✤ Panic disorder in adolescents tend to manifest in a similar way than in adults. Adolescents tend to experience more than “they are not real”, as if they were in a dream state, or they can go crazy or die.
✤ Disorder in children is less common than symptoms that include ways of thinking (cognitive symptoms). Panic attacks in children can result from having failed the school year or separation from parents.
✤ Both children and adolescents who suffer from panic attacks are at greater risk of developing substance abuse and depression, and sometimes suicidal thoughts, which include plans and / or actions
✤ The person suffering from a panic attack, when a crisis occurs, is not aware of the phobic nature of his disturbances, but thinks that he is a victim of a very serious or rare disease.
✤ A panic attack can occur only once in a lifetime, but many people experience repeated episodes.
Symptoms of Panic Attacks
Panic attacks are one of the most distressing conditions a person can experience, and their symptoms closely resemble those of a heart attack. They usually occur when the person is away from home, but it can happen anywhere and at any time. While in a commercial store, walking down the street, driving the car or sitting in the armchair at home. Panic attacks can also occur while the person is asleep, and are called nocturnal panic attacks. They are less common, affecting 40% of people suffering from panic disorder.
A panic attack is defined by the abrupt appearance of an intense fear that reaches a peak in a few minutes and includes at least four of the following symptoms:
- Feelings of panic, fear and restlessness
- Chest pain
- Restless breathing and hyperventilation
- Feeling of fainting, dizziness
- Irresistible need to flee or ask for help
Signs and symptoms of panic disorder
You may be suffering from panic disorder if:
- Experiences frequent and sudden panic attacks that are not linked to a specific situation
- Has a feeling of being out of control during the panic attack
- Has intense fear about when the next panic attack will occur
- Behaves differently due to panic attacks, such as avoiding places where panic attacks have occurred in the past.
Medication: Pharmacological Treatment
The systemic approach warns particularly about the use of medication, since using it without psychological treatment can have rather counterproductive effects. The risk of the medication is that it inhibits the physiological reactions of fear through sedatives, so that the person cannot react, but will anyway have, perhaps in an increased way, the perception of fear; moreover, his inability to react increases his sense of inability to handle this emotion.
The medications can be used for temporary control or to reduce some of the symptoms of panic disorder. However, it does not address or solve the problem. The medication can be used in severe cases, but it should not be the only treatment followed.