Individuals with panic disorder experience recurrent panic attacks that feel out of the blue. Panic attacks are rapid surges of fear that typically peak within a few minutes and can include a variety of intense physical sensations (i.e., rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, sweating, shaking, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, tingling sensations, feeling hot or cold, feelings of choking). Panic attacks can also involve feelings that things are not real or that one is detached from oneself, fears of losing control or going “crazy,” and often, fears of dying.
The experience of these panic attacks are so distressing, that those with panic disorder often have a lot of worry concern about having additional panic attacks, or fears about what will happen when these panic attacks occur (i.e., losing control, dying, “going crazy”). Some individuals also change their behaviors to avoid situations and activities that might seem to trigger panic episodes.
The experience of panic disorder can be quite scary and often individuals make repeated visits to the ER or the doctor due to concerns that they may be having a heart attack or that something might be medically wrong with them. Medical tests are typically negative and suggest that anxiety may the cause of these symptoms.