It has been determined that in order for an attack to be classed as part of a panic disorder, it must be one of four episodes in a four week period and must include at least four of the following symptoms:
- shortness of breath
- heart palpitations
- Chest discomfort
- Unsteady feelings
- choking or smothering sensations
- hot or cold flashes
- nausea or abdominal distress
- feelings of unreality
- fears of losing control, dying or going insane
The sense of danger and physical discomfort the attacks bring is so intense that they may interpret them as the precursors of a heart attack or stroke or the product of a brain tumor. Consequently, many panic disorder sufferers show up in emergency rooms where doctors unfamiliar with the illness judge that the patient is in no danger and send them home. This embarrasing process my repeat itself many times if the proper diagnosis isn't made.
What's behind the attack?Psychiatric research into the causes of panic disorder has been on the rise in recent years. Surveys have shown that more women than men are afflicted with panic disorder--by a ratio of two to one--and that panic disorder knows no racial, economic, or geographical boundaries. Because the victims often hide their illness and because healthcare professionals often do not diaganose it, it is difficult to gauge how wide spread panic disorder is in the general population. A recent study by the National Institute of Mental Health, 10 percent of those interviewed reported having spontaneous attacks. The best recent estimate of those with panic disorder or phobia is 13 million. Apart from the very real suffering the disorder inflicts, the illness costs billions of dollars per yar in the U.S., figured in terms of wages. And as the disorder is more widely recognized and researched, those number may very well climb.
While many studies have examined the emotional components of panic disorder, more recent studies have shown that panic disorder's roots are pyhsical as well as psychological. Researchers have found that panic disorder runs in families--a fact which supports the idea that the ondition may pass genetically from generation to generation. To explore this possibility, scientists are pursuing several promising lines of biological study, looking into the brain for the clues to the causes of panic disorder. Scientists are studying the brain's chemistry to find out if panic comes from a problem with that organ's complex chemical communications system, called neurotransmitters. Other groups are examining the brain's structure to see if a problem there might cause information from the senses to short circuit, triggering the panic reflex. Still another group is looking into the effect of various chemical compounds, such as sodium lactate and carbon dioxide.
Many people who do not have panic disorder may have an occassional panick attack during periods of severe stress. But those with panic disorder have the attacks even after the stressful conditions have gone. The disorder typically begins when the victim is in their twenties. Often a serious event--such as the death of a parent or divorce--will kick off the first attack.
Ten Rules for Coping with Panic1. Remember panic feelings are only normal reactions that are exaggerated.
2. They are not harmful and nothing worse will happen.
3. Notice what is happening in your body now. Stay with the present. Slow down, relax but keep going.
4. Thinking about what might happen is unhelpful. Only now matters.
5. Accept the feelings. Let them run through you and they will disappear more quickly.
6. Monitor your level of anxiety: 10 (worst) to 0 (least). Watch the level go down.
7. Stay in the situation. If you run away, avoid or escape, it will be more difficult in the future.
8. Take a few slow, deep breaths.
9. Consciouly relax your tense muscles. Feel yourself relaxing.
10. Now begin to concentrate again on what you were doing before.