Panic Disorder

John Lehnhoff, Ph.D. Clinical Consultant and Educator
Alegent Behavioral Health

Q: I am having panic attacks quite regularly and can't seem to stop them. What should I do?

A: Panic Disorder is one example of the Anxiety Disorders. Other Anxiety Disorders include phobias, acute stress, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. These types of disorders are quite common. One study indicated that 15% of the US population reports experiencing at least one panic attack, and 1.5% have repeated panics sometime during their lifetime.

Panic attacks can happen with or without warning, and usually include accelerated heart rate, trembling, shortness of breath, and an overwhelming fear of loss of control. Many people in such panic believe they are having a heart attack and are terrified of dying. Fear of having a panic attack leads some people to avoid the public or restrict their activities of daily living.

A panic attack, like all the anxiety disorders, is a fear response when there is no physical danger present. In many ways a panic attack is a series of false alarms, when the brain sends a false alarm to the body, and the body sends a false alarm to the brain. The attacks may start suddenly and usually peak in about ten minutes, and then start reducing in intensity. Panic can even happen during sleep. The exact causes are under study, but not entirely understood.

Nevertheless, current treatments for all the anxiety disorders are very safe and effective. The first step in treatment is to obtain a thorough physical examination because some medical conditions can produce anxiety or panic symptoms. Panic disorder is often accompanied by other disorders such as depression or another anxiety disorder. Your family physician can refer you to a good therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist for treatment. Best results are usually obtained by a combination of therapy and medicine, although medicine is not always necessary.

Additional assistance obtaining services may be obtained from the Alegent Behavioral Health Information and Referral Line at 717-HOPE (4673)