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Panic - attacks or disorder?

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

What exactly is Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder is when you’ve had at least two panic attacks (more on that in a moment) and constantly worry and change your routine and daily life to keep yourself from having another one. This behavior is what characterizes this as a type of anxiety disorder.

Panic attacks are described as a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you're losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.

One in 10 adults in the U.S. have a panic attack each year, and most commonly are experienced for the first time between the ages of 15 and 25. Overall, about a third of people have one in their lifetime. But most of them don’t have panic disorder. Researchers suggest that about 3% of adults have it, and that it is more common in women than in men.

What can cause Panic Disorder?

While doctors don’t know exactly what causes panic disorder, one possibility is that the brains of people who have it may be especially sensitive in responding to fear. What is interesting is that there's a link between panic attacks and phobias, such as trypanophobia and claustrophobia.

Experts suggest that there are a few things can make you more likely to have panic disorder:

  • Someone in your family has it (though it’s not clear how much of that is because of your genes, or the environment you grew up in leading to a learned behavior)

  • High levels of stress

  • Frequent negative feelings or trouble dealing with negative emotions

What Are Panic Disorder Symptoms?

Panic attacks typically begin suddenly, without warning. They can take place at any time — when you're driving a car, at the shops, sound asleep or in the middle of a business meeting. You may have occasional panic attacks, or they may occur frequently. Ultimately, panic attacks have many variations, but symptoms usually peak within minutes. Here are some of the most common signs you are having a panic attach:

  • A sense of approaching danger

  • Pounding or fast heartbeat

  • Sweating

  • Trembling or shaking

  • Shortness of breath or a feeling of being smothered

  • Throat tightness

  • Cramps in your belly

  • Headache

  • A choking feeling

  • Chest pain

  • Nausea or stomach pains

  • Feeling dizzy or faint

  • Chills or hot flashes

  • Numbness or tingling

  • Feeling unreal or detached

  • A fear of losing control or sense of reality

  • A fear of dying

An attack usually passes in 5 to 10 minutes, but it can linger for hours. It can feel like you’re having a heart attack or a stroke. So people with panic attacks often seek medical advice for evaluation. Also keep in mind that symptoms of a panic attack are similar to those for more serious conditions. If you're not sure if what you're having is a panic attack, call your doctor, just to be safe. What is most certainly true, you may feel fatigued and worn out after a panic attack subsides.

Whilst many people have just one or two panic attacks in their lifetimes, if you've had recurrent, unexpected panic attacks and spent long periods in constant fear of another attack, you may have a panic disorder. Although panic attacks themselves aren't life-threatening, they can be frightening and significantly affect your quality of life. But treatment can be very effective. That’s where we come in. The Team here at oVRcome are developing programmes to support individuals in their journey to managing their anxieties and fears. Why not have a read offer previous article from out blog, VR and exposure therapy, which talks about the approach we take?

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