Anxiety attacks are the same as panic attacks. Anxiety attacks are often also referred to as Panic Attack Disorder or Anxiety Attack Disorder.

Panic attacks are frightening but fortunately physically harmless episodes. They can occur at random or after a person is exposed to various events that may “trigger” a panic attack. They peak in intensity very rapidly and go away with or without medical help.

But don’t worry! Whatever the cause, anxiety/panic attacks are a treatable condition that can be overcome with therapy.

Panic disorder is different from the normal fear and anxiety reactions to stressful events in our lives. Panic disorder is a serious condition that strikes without reason or warning. Symptoms of panic isorder include sudden attacks of fear and nervousness, as well as physical symptoms such as sweating and a racing heart. During a panic attack, the fear response is out of proportion for the situation, which often is not threatening. Over time, a person with panic disorder develops a constant fear of having another panic attack, which can affect daily functioning and general quality of life.

Panic disorder can occur along with other serious conditions, such as depression, alcoholism, or drug abuse.

What Causes Panic Disorder?

Although the exact cause of panic disorder is not fully understood, studies have shown that a combination of factors, including biological and environmental, may be involved.

These factors include:

  • Family history. Panic disorder has been shown to run in families. It may be passed on to some people by one or both parent(s) much like hair or eye color can.
  • Abnormalities in the brain. Panic disorder may be caused by problems in parts of the brain.
  • Substance abuse. Abuse of drugs and alcohol can contribute to panic disorder.
  • Major life stress. Stressful events and major life transitions, such as the death of a loved one, can trigger panic disorder.

How Common Is Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder affects about 2.4 million adult Americans. Panic disorder most often begins during late adolescence and early adulthood. It is twice as common in women as in men.

How Is Panic Disorder Diagnosed?

If symptoms of panic disorder are present, the doctor will begin an evaluation by performing a complete medical history and physical exam. Although there are no lab tests to specifically diagnose panic disorder, the doctor may use various tests to look for physical illness as the cause of symptoms.

If no physical illness is found, you may be referred to a psychiatrist or psychologist, mental health professionals who are specially trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses. Psychiatrists and psychologists use specially designed interview and assessment tools to evaluate a person for panic disorder.

The doctor bases his or her diagnosis on reported intensity and duration of symptoms, including the frequency of panic attacks, and the doctor’s observation of the patient’s attitude and behaviour. The doctor then determines if the symptoms and degree of dysfunction suggest panic disorder.

What are the symptoms of panic disorder?

Symptoms of a panic attack, which often last about 10 minutes, include:

  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Pounding heart or chest pain.
  • Intense feeling of dread.
  • Sensation of choking or smothering.
  • Dizziness or feeling faint.
  • Trembling or shaking.
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or stomach ache.
  • Tingling or numbness in the fingers and toes.
  • Chills or hot flashes.
  • A fear that you are losing control or are about to die.

Performance Anxiety/Exam Nerves

If you dread the thought of getting up in front of a group of people and performing, you are not alone. Millions of people suffer from performance anxiety, commonly called “stage fright.” In fact, most people would rather get the ‘flu than perform; athletes, musicians, actors, and public speakers often get performance anxiety. Performance anxiety can prevent you from doing what you enjoy and can affect your career. Worst of all, performance anxiety can negatively affect your self-esteem and self-confidence.