Have you experienced the terrifying sensation of not being able to breathe, having a tight chest, intense fear, and a heart beating so fast you thought it might be a heart attack? You may have experienced a panic attack.

What is panic disorder?

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. It occurs in the form of a sudden, intensive surge of fear, known as a panic attack, with no obvious identifiable trigger. Symptoms include shortness of breath, shaking, feeling hot and sweaty, heart palpitations, chest pain, feeling of choking and sometimes nausea. Due to the intensity of symptoms, the attack is often accompanied by a strong belief that you are going to die, or that you are going crazy. Panic attacks typically last 10-20minutes, but the unsettling feeling of anxiety can continue for hours afterwards. Many individuals seek out medical advice or may even go to hospital after the first attack, as they are convinced something is physically wrong. Even after being diagnosed with panic attacks, individuals have difficulty believing this due to the intense physical symptoms. Unfortunately, panic attacks often occur more frequently once they have started, because individuals are terrified of it happening again, causing increased stress and hyperawareness of symptoms, which in turn increases the likelihood of an attack.

About 20% of individuals will experience a panic attack in their lifetime, but it can sometimes be a one-off occurance. It becomes a disorder if several panic attacks occur within a certain span of time. The prevalence of panic disorder in Singapore is unclear, but according to epidemiological studies, the prevalence in the UK and US ranges from 1.7%-5% of the population.

What is life like for individuals with panic disorder?

Individuals experiencing panic disorders live in fear of another attack occuring, and sometimes stop engaging in activities out of fear of triggering another attack. They may stay at home or avoid specific locations, and may stop engaging in certain activities such as exercise, driving, etc. This is known as Agoraphobia. Individuals spend a significant amount of time worrying about another attack occuring, and pay a lot of attention to their body symptoms. This can make it difficult to concentrate at work or school, leading to other difficulties such as financial concerns or depression.

What causes panic disorder?

The exact cause of panic disorder is unclear, however there is likely to be a genetic component, and it is more common in individuals with an anxious or nervous temperament. Panic attacks usually occur initially during a period of

Help for panic disorder

Treatment can help reduce the intensity and frequency of your panic attacks and improve your function in daily life. Treatment for panic attacks can involve medication, therapy or a combination of both.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is considered an effective first choice treatment for panic attacks and panic disorder. This can help you understand panic attacks and panic disorder and learn how to cope with them.

With effective therapy, individuals can return to living a normal, panic-attack-free life.

At Psynaptica, our Clinical Psychologists have extensive experience working with numerous clients with Panic Attacks and Panic Disorders, helping them return to normal, healthy fulfilling lives.

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