Panic disorder is characterized by repeated and unexpected panic attacks followed by a period of constant worry about when the next attack will occur.
Many people experience isolated panic attacks without further episodes or complications. Just because you have experienced one or two panic attacks doesn't necessarily mean you will develop a panic disorder.
People with this disorder experience unexpected, frequent attacks that aren't triggered by a specific situation, consistently worry about the next panic attack (anticipatory anxiety,) and begin avoiding places where they have experienced a previous attack (phobic avoidance.) This can sometimes lead to agoraphobia (avoidance of any situation where one may not be able to get help, or the feeling of losing control in a public place.)
While a single panic attack may only last a few minutes, the effects of the experience can leave a lasting imprint. If you have panic disorder, the recurrent panic attacks take an emotional toll. The memory of the intense fear and terror that you felt during the attacks can negatively impact your self-confidence and cause serious disruption to your everyday life.
Symptoms of a panic attack are as follows:
- Shortness of breath or hyperventilation
- Heart palpitations or a racing heart
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Trembling or shaking
- Choking feeling
- Feeling unreal or detached from your surroundings
- Nausea or upset stomach
- Feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or faint
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Hot or cold flashes
- Fear of dying, losing control, or going crazy
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