Individuals with panic disorder experience recurrent ‘attacks’ of severe anxiety, with numerous physical symptoms and a catastrophic interpretation of those symptoms.
Physical symptoms may include heart palpitations; chest pain; shortness of breath; a choking sensation; feelings of dizziness; and feeling weak or numb. Catastrophic interpretations of the symptoms include a fear of having a heart attack; fear of passing out or collapsing; fear of dying; fear of losing control or fear of going mad, and these interpretations significantly worsen the initial anxiety symptoms. Each panic attack tends to surge to a peak within 10 minutes of starting, and can occur out of the blue or in response to a specific situation.
Panic attacks often cause individuals to avoid certain situations, or alternatively to use things to help them through those situations such as always carrying medication, food or water, or always taking someone else with them. Some individuals may develop a fear and avoidance of leaving home; entering shops; crowds and public places; or travelling alone on public transport.
Prior to clients being recommended for psychological therapy, panic disorder needs to be medically investigated by the person’s GP. This is to rule out any physical health conditions that could be causing the physical symptoms associated with the panic attacks.