Anxiety or Panic Disorder
Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by recurring severe panic attacks. It may also include significant behavioral change lasting at least a month and of ongoing worry about the implications or concern about having other attacks. The latter are called anticipatory attacks (DSM-IVR). Panic disorder is not the same as agoraphobia (fear of public places), although many with panic disorder also suffer from agoraphobia. Panic attacks cannot be predicted, therefore an individual may become stressed, anxious or worried wondering when the next panic attack will occur. Panic disorder may be differentiated as a medical condition, or chemical imbalance. The DSM-IV-TR describes Panic disorder and Anxiety differently. Panic attacks have a sudden or out-of-blue cause that lasts shorter with more intense symptoms, as opposed to Anxiety attacks having stressors that build to less severe reactions and can last for weeks or months.Panic attacks can occur in children, as well as adults. Panic in young people may be particularly distressing because the child has less insight about what is happening, and his/her parent is also likely to experience distress when attacks occur.
Screening tools like Panic Disorder Severity Scale can be used to detect possible cases of disorder, and suggest the need for a formal diagnostic assessment.
Panic disorder is a potentially disabling disorder, but can be controlled and successfully treated. Because of the intense symptoms that accompany panic disorder, it may be mistaken for a life-threatening physical illness such as a heart attack. This misconception often aggravates or triggers future attacks (some are called Anticipatory Attacks). People frequently go to hospital emergency r ooms when they are having panic attacks, and extensive medical tests may be performed to rule out these other conditions, thus creating further anxiety. There are three types of panic attacks: unexpected, situationally bounded and situationally predisposed (American psychiatric association 2000).
There is no single cause for panic disorder, however, panic disorder has been found to run in families, and suggests that inheritance plays a strong role in determining who will get it. It has also been found to exist as a co-morbid condition with many hereditary disorders, such as bipolar disorder, and a genetic predisposition to alcoholism.
Psychological factors, stressful life events, life transitions, environment, and thinking in a way that exaggerates relatively normal bodily reactions are also believed to play a role in the onset of panic disorder. Often the first attacks are triggered by physical illnesses, major stress, or certain medications. People who tend to take on excessive responsibilities may develop a tendency to suffer panic attacks. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients also show a much higher rate of panic disorder than the general population.
There is some evidence to suggest hypoglycemia, hyperthyroidism, mitral valve prolapse, labyrinthitis, pheochromocytoma and respiratory conditions can cause or aggravate panic disorder. Prepulse inhibition has been found to be reduced in patients with Panic Disorder.
There are other researchers looking at some individuals with panic disorder as having a chemical imbalance within the limbic system and one of its regulatory chemicals GABA-A. The reduced production of GABA-A sends false information to the amygdala which regulates the body's "fight or flight response" mechanism and in return, produces the physiological symptoms that lead to the disorder. Clonazepam, an anticonvulsant benzodiazepine with a long half-life, has been successful in keeping the condition in check.
A growing body of evidence exists that shows a link between substance abuse and panic disorder.