Shortness of breath, a feeling of impending doom, churning stomach, a racing heart, sweating, headaches, pins and needles, feeling sick, trembling and faintness. Just some of the things you might be feeling when you are experiencing a panic attack. For some though, these feelings may not just be something they experience in stressful situations such as writing an exam or speaking in public, or as a one-off, these are feelings which can in extreme cases, dominate their whole life.
Up to 1 in 3 of the UK population will experience a panic attack at some point in their life, and it is estimated that 1.7% will go on to develop panic disorder. If you experience at least two panic attacks within a short space of time and then become preoccupied with the fear of another attack, it is likely that you have panic disorder. Panic disorder often starts in late teens or in early adulthood, and it is more common in women than in men.
There is no conclusive one cause of panic disorder. Some studies have shown that it can run in families. Others have shown that major stress or traumatic events, temperament and a person’s sensitivity to stress or negative emotions, major life changes, excessive smoking or caffeine intake, or a history of abuse can all play a part in developing panic disorder. Some research has also suggested that some people who may be particularly sensitive to sunlight, strong smells and changes in the weather are more susceptible to panic disorder.
People who suffer from panic disorder may also suffer from major depression and/or agoraphobia, and certainly can have their quality of life severely affected. If you live in constant fear of another panic attack, it can make you feel like you don’t want to leave the house, drive or interact with other people. It can also cause people to rely on substances such as drugs or alcohol, and can damage relationships with those closest to them.
If you suspect that you may be suffering from panic disorder, it is important to seek professional help. In the first instance this can be from your GP who may then refer you to a psychotherapist or to a psychiatrist for further diagnosis and treatment. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (or CBT) is one of the most effect therapies used in the treatment of panic disorder, as it helps the sufferer to overcome the fears they usually experience in certain situations. Symptoms can reduce gradually over several weeks of CBT and then disappear altogether after several months. Other treatments include medications such as SSRIs and SNRIs – both forms of anti-depressant.
The consultants at Private Psychiatry have many years’ experience in treating people who suffer from panic attacks and panic disorder. If you feel you would benefit from our help, please get in touch.