What is Panic Disorder?

A panic disorder may be described as recurrent and unexpected panic attacks.

A panic attack is a sudden surge of intense fear (or discomfort) that progresses from a calm state and reaches a peak within minutes (DSM V, 2013).

What are the symptoms of a panic attack?

During a panic attack, an individual will experience four or more of the following symptoms (DSM V):

  • Accelerated heart rate, pounding heart or palpitations;
  • Sweating;
  • Trembling or shaking;
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering;
  • Feelings of choking;
  • Chest pain or discomfort;
  • Nausea or abdominal distress;
  • Feeling dizzy, light headed, faint or unsteady;
  • Chills or heat sensations;
  • Numbness or tingling sensations;
  • De-realisation (feelings of unreality) or de-personalisation (being detached from one-self);
  • Fear of losing control;
  • Fear of dying.

These panic attacks may be described as an individual’s physiological response to thoughts, situations or environments that illicit stress or anxiety.

Individuals who experience panic attacks often report concerns that a panic attack may reflect the presence of a life-threatening illness (eg cardiac disease); social concerns (eg fear of being judged negatively because of the panic attack) or thoughts of losing control.

The Impacts of Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is associated with high levels of social (dropping out of school, social withdrawal), occupational (frequent absenteeism and unemployment) and physical disability. Individuals with panic disorder may be frequently absent from work or school due to frequent visits to the doctor or emergency room for perceived life threatening physical symptoms.

Individuals with panic disorder may experience financial hardship as a result of medical expense and loss of employment.

Author: Paul Knowles, B Psych, M Psych (Clinical), MAPS.

Paul Knowles prides himself on providing client-focused services, with individually tailored treatment programs drawing from a range of evidence-based therapeutic approaches.

His Master’s program research focused on compassion fatigue in mental health professionals working with traumatised clients.

To make an appointment with Clinical Psychologist, Paul Knowles, call (07) 32017096 or book online.

  • American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. pp. 208-214.