Panic disorder is where you have recurring and regular panic attacks, often for no apparent reason. Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety and panic at certain times during their lifetime, it’s a natural response to stressful or dangerous situations. However, for someone with panic disorder, feelings of anxiety, stress and panic occur regularly and at any time.
Anxiety is a feeling of unease. It can range from mild to severe and can include feelings of worry and fear. Anxiety is a natural response to protect us in situations of perceived danger. An anxiety disorder covers a range of conditions including:
- phobias – an extreme or irrational fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal
- generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) – a long-term condition that causes excessive anxiety and worry relating to a variety of situations
- post-traumatic stress disorder – a condition with psychological and physical symptoms caused by distressing or frightening events
A panic attack occurs when your body experiences a rush of intense psychological (mental) and physical symptoms.
You may experience an overwhelming sense of fear, apprehension and anxiety. As well as these feelings, you may also have physical, psychological and behavioural symptoms such as:
- urge to go to the toilet
- inability to concentrate
- a sensation that your heart is beating irregularly (palpitations)
- isolating behaviour to avoid having a panic attack in public
Read more about the symptoms of panic disorder.
Panic attacks can be very frightening and intense, but they’re not dangerous. An attack won’t cause you any physical harm, and it’s unlikely that you’ll be admitted to hospital if you’ve had a panic attack. However living with anxiety disorders long-term can put additional stress on your body and your health.
What causes panic disorder?
As with many mental health conditions the exact cause of panic disorder is not fully understood, however, it’s thought the condition is probably linked to a combination of physical and psychological factors. Read about the possible causes of panic disorder.
It’s important to be aware that some physical conditions and disorders can have similar symptoms to those of anxiety. For example:
- thyrotoxicosis – where large amounts of thyroid hormones are released into the bloodstream, causing rapid heartbeat, sweating, tremor and anxiety
- poorly controlled diabetes
- adrenal tumours – growths that develop on the adrenal glands (two triangular-shaped glands that form part of the kidneys)
- Zollinger-Ellison syndrome –causes over production of insulin and low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia)