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Panic Disorders: What They Are, Causes And Treatment

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Panic Disorder Treatment in Chattanooga, TN
Picture of Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Mohsin Ali, MD

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Mohsin Ali, MD

Dr. Mohsin Ali MD is board certified in Psychiatry and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Trained in Syracuse NY, he has worked in Tennessee for the last sixteen years.

Table of Contents

Have you ever been gripped by an intense, unexplained fear that surges out of the blue? This experience, characterized by unexpected and frequent bouts of severe anxiety called panic attacks, may indicate a panic disorder.

What is a Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder is diagnosed using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (fifth edition), or DSM-5, developed by mental health experts.

The manual specifies diagnostic criteria for panic disorder, including:

  • The sudden emergence of intense fear or discomfort that peaks within minutes.
  • Repeated, unexpected panic attacks.
  • Ongoing concern about the consequences of an attack or significant changes in behavior aimed at avoiding future attacks.

During a panic attack, individuals may experience severe chest pain, accelerated heartbeats, difficulty breathing, or an intense feeling of impending doom. These episodes are not just psychological; they manifest physically, often so severely that individuals might believe they are experiencing a heart attack, prompting urgent medical attention.

Types of Panic Attacks

People with panic disorder might encounter two distinct types of panic attacks:

  • Unexpected (or Uncued) Panic Attacks: These panic attacks occur spontaneously without any apparent cause. Individuals experience them as sudden and seemingly out-of-nowhere episodes, adding to the distress because of their unpredictable nature.
  • Expected (or Cued) Panic Attacks: Also known as situationally bound panic attacks, these occur in response to certain triggers. They can be precipitated by the anticipation of or actual exposure to specific situations known to provoke panic. This understanding that certain environments or scenarios can trigger an attack often leads to increased anxiety in similar settings.

Signs and Symptoms of Panic Disorders

Panic disorder is primarily marked by a continuous fear of future panic attacks. If you are frequently enduring panic attacks and are constantly worried about when the next one will strike, you may be suffering from panic disorder.

A panic attack involves at least four of these symptoms:

  • Heart palpitations, a pounding heartbeat, or an accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Feelings of being smothered or shortness of breath
  • A choking sensation
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal pain
  • Dizziness, feeling unsteady, light-headed, or faint
  • Chills or heat sensations
  • Numbness or tingling feelings
  • A sense of unreality or detachment from the environment
  • Fear of losing control or ‘going crazy’
  • Fear of dying

Panic attacks are acute and overwhelmingly intense, arising suddenly and often unexpectedly. While they generally reach their peak within ten minutes, the duration and frequency of these attacks can vary, leaving individuals in prolonged distress. The exaggerated perception of threat during an attack can lead to significant disruptions in daily life, making understanding and managing this condition critical for those affected.

What are the Causes of Panic Disorders?

The origins of panic disorder remain partially unclear, but research suggests several contributing factors:

  • Genetic Factors: There is evidence to suggest that panic disorder may have a hereditary component, although the exact genes involved have not been conclusively identified.
  • Brain Chemistry and Function: Irregularities in certain brain areas may exacerbate the anxiety and fear responses associated with panic disorder.
  • Environmental Factors and Stress: Significant life changes or intense stress can act as catalysts for panic attacks in those who are predisposed to the disorder.

Symptoms of Panic Disorders

Diagnosing Panic Disorders

To diagnose panic disorder, medical professionals take the following steps:

  • Medical and Symptom Review: Your doctor will discuss your medical history and the symptoms you’ve been experiencing.
  • Physical Examination and Tests: They will perform a physical exam and may order blood tests to exclude other potential causes of your symptoms, such as thyroid problems or cardiovascular issues.
  • Panic Disorder Assessment: You may undergo specific assessments designed to diagnose panic disorder.
  • Consultation with Mental Health Specialists: For further evaluation, a mental health professional might be consulted to conduct psychological tests.

How Long Do Panic Disorders Last?

Panic disorder can be a chronic condition. The time it takes to see improvement from treatment varies widely among individuals. Some might find relief within months, while others may need ongoing treatment for a year or more to effectively manage their symptoms.

What’s the Difference Between Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder?

Experiencing a panic attack does not necessarily mean you have panic disorder. Panic attacks can arise from situational stress, physical exertion, or stimulants like caffeine and do not always signify a deeper psychological issue.

However, if you frequently fear subsequent attacks or worry about their potential consequences, such as fainting or losing control, you might be experiencing panic disorder. Unlike panic attacks triggered by specific scenarios or phobias, those associated with panic disorder are sudden and unpredictable, making them distinct from panic attacks linked to particular fears or stresses.

How Panic and Anxiety Differ

Panic and anxiety are often confused but represent distinctly different psychological conditions. Panic attacks are intense, acute episodes that erupt suddenly and typically last for a short duration. This brevity is due to the body’s inability to sustain high arousal levels for long periods. Triggers for panic attacks can vary widely, from watching a tense film to engaging in strenuous activities or consuming too much caffeine.

In contrast, anxiety is more pervasive and persistent, characterized by a chronic sense of apprehension about potential future mishaps or negative outcomes. Unlike the sharp peaks of panic, anxiety involves a less intense, but more continuous, level of emotional arousal.

What Happens if a Panic Disorder Goes Untreated?

If left unaddressed, panic disorder can lead to a range of complex issues:

  • Development of Phobias: Often stemming from avoidance of situations that resemble those during which a panic attack occurred. For instance, experiencing a panic attack while driving could lead to a lasting fear of driving.
  • Agoraphobia: This involves the fear of being in places or situations from which escape might be difficult, or in which help would not be available if a panic attack occurs.
  • Increased Risk of Other Issues: Those with untreated panic disorder may be more prone to substance misuse, increased suicidal ideation, and frequent visits to emergency rooms.
  • Social and Economic Impact: There may be a withdrawal from enjoyable activities, social isolation, financial dependency on others, and a decline in overall emotional and physical health.
  • Mobility Restrictions: An intense fear of traveling far from home or avoiding driving altogether can severely restrict personal freedom and independence.

Recognizing and treating panic disorder comprehensively is crucial, addressing both its physical symptoms and psychological impacts.

Outpatient Panic Disorder Treatment in Chattanooga, TN

Panic Disorder Treatment

There are effective treatments available for panic disorder that aim to reduce symptoms and enhance life quality.

Treatment for panic disorders include:

  • Psychotherapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is highly effective, helping patients to alter negative thought patterns and behaviors that trigger panic attacks.
  • Medication Management: Antidepressants and certain anti-anxiety drugs can be beneficial in controlling symptoms.
  • Lifestyle Adjustments and Stress Management: Implementing mindfulness practices, relaxation techniques, and maintaining physical activity can significantly aid in managing symptoms.

Managing panic disorder can be challenging, but with appropriate treatment and support, individuals can control their symptoms and enjoy a productive life. If you or someone you know might be suffering from panic disorder in Chattanooga, contact Iris Wellness Group at 423-541-0656 or via our online contact form to start treatment and regain control of your life.

Compassionate and Effective Panic Disorder Treatment in Chattanooga, TN

At Iris Wellness Group, our devoted team is passionate about assisting individuals as they navigate the complexities of panic disorder, along with a spectrum of other mental health conditions.

If you or someone close to you is grappling with panic disorder in Chattanooga, TN, you can rely on the warmth and understanding of our seasoned mental health professionals. We are dedicated to offering compassionate, tailored support that addresses the unique challenges of each individual.

Reach out to us today at at 423-541-0656 or via our online contact form to connect with one of our admissions coordinators. Embark on your path to a healthier and more rewarding life with the support of Iris Wellness Group.

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