What Is Panic Disorder, What Is a Panic Attack?

What Is Panic Disorder, What Is a Panic Attack?

by Dr Emma Gray - 15th October, 2018

Panic Disorder and Panic Attacks are often confused and the terms used interchangeably so in this blog I am going to explain the difference and help you to self-diagnose so you can get the help you need.

A Panic Attack is a discrete episode of anxiety, the onset of which is sudden and the duration short usually between 3-5 minutes. Symptoms are severe, intense and overwhelming and include breathlessness, heart palpitations, dizziness and nausea.

The intensity of this experience is born out by the fact that 20-44% of people presenting at A&E with nonspecific chest pain are actually diagnosed as having suffered a Panic Attack.

A Panic Attack occurs when our fight/flight response is triggered in the absence of a challenge that the response can be used to deal with, so we are just left with the physical sensations that accompany the fight/flight response with no outlet for the energy.

Many people experience a one-off panic attack in times of stress, often when things just become too much, but then that is usually the end of it. People often feel a little shaken afterwards but if they have no history of anxiety, depression or low self-esteem, they are usually able to move on with their lives by putting the experience down to a stressful situation that has now passed.

Panic Disorder is where, following a panic attack, having another becomes your biggest fear, so much so that it takes over your life, influencing all your decisions. When you have Panic Disorder your main motivator is to avoid having another panic attack. Panic Disorder effects 5% of the general population at some point in their lives. It is a debilitating condition that in severe cases can lead to people becoming house bound.

Ask yourself these questions to work out if Panic Disorder is the problem you are struggling with:

1. Are you overwhelmed by the fear of having a Panic Attack?

2. Do you constantly worry about collapsing, fainting or causing a ‘scene’ in public?

3. Do you worry that you might go ‘mad’ when you are feeling anxious?

4. Do you worry that you might suffocate or have a heart attack when you are feeling anxious?

5. Do you avoid situations because you fear they might trigger a Panic Attack?

6. Do you often experience strong symptoms of anxiety e.g. heart palpitations, breathlessness, dizziness?

If you have answered ‘yes’ to one or more of these questions you may be suffering from Panic Disorder. However, you do not need to suffer as there are very effective treatments available. To find out more watch this video.


Dr Emma Gray

Dr Emma Gray

I am often the first person with whom my patients share significant and intimate thoughts and memories; I never take that privileged position for granted nor the opportunity to help someone to feel better about themselves and discover a more fulfilling life. One of my colleague once described me as natural psychologist; I guess she was alluding to the fact that I feel at ease being a therapist, I can empathise with people’s distress and discomfort but don’t feel overwhelmed by it, I can understand their problem and know how to help, it has always just felt like what I should be doing.


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