A debilitating condition that will affect 13 to 16 million Americans at some time in their lives, is characterized by its ability to disrupt, restrict, and ultimately dominate the sufferer's life. The hallmark of panic disorder is the recurrent, unprovoked panic attack, an acute episode of terror marked by the fear of losing control or even of dying. People with panic disorder may experience such attacks as frequently as once a day or more.
During a panic attack, the sufferer experiences extreme fear accompanied by highly disruptive physical symptoms that can include a racing, pounding heartbeat, chest pain, breathlessness, choking, flushes or chills, sweating, trembling, and tingling or numbness. It is common for sufferers to think they are having a heart attack. A full panic attack is defined by the presence of four or more of these signs or symptoms.
Panic disorder is diagnosed when the sufferer experiences multiple unprovoked panic attacks over an extended period of time, accompanied by persistent anxiety about having another attack or the implications of the attacks. Women are more than twice as likely as men to suffer from disease. Onset commonly occurs in the late teens or early to middle twenties, but panic attacks and panic disorder are reported in people of all ages.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, only one out of three panic disorder sufferers has been diagnosed and is receiving appropriate treatment. Moreover, because panic disorder is frequently misdiagnosed, many sufferers wind up utilizing an extraordinarily high number of medical services without receiving appropriate help. In the last few years, some useful diagnostic techniques and highly effective pharmaceutical and cognitive therapies have been developed to help physicians diagnose and manage this disabling condition.