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Panic disorder and agoraphobia

What is a panic disorder?

People with panic disorder experience panic attacks and then worry about reoccurrence of the attack. A panic attack is an intense feeling of fear or anxiety. It happens suddenly and develops rapidly and is characterized by symptoms including a racing heart, sweating, shortness of breath, chest pain and dizziness.

A panic attack is different to panic disorder. The sufferer may also worry about losing control or ‘going crazy’. They may avoid certain places or activities because of the fear of panic having further attacks. If symptoms prevail for more than a month the person is said to have panic disorder.

Having a panic attack does not always mean that a person will develop panic disorder. Some people may develop panic disorder after only a few panic attacks. Others may have many panic attacks without developing a panic disorder.

What is agoraphobia?

Some people who have panic attacks develop agoraphobia. They avoid situations because they worry about having a panic attack. They worry that it will be difficult or embarrassing to get away or that there will be no one to help them. Some people avoid situations like crowds, enclosed places such as shopping centres, or driving. In extreme cases the person may avoid leaving their home altogether.

What treatments are available?

A combination of psychotherapy and medication is normally advised.