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What is Severe Panic Disorder?

Marisa O'Connor
Marisa O'Connor

Severe panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that manifests as chronic, severe panic attacks. A severe panic attack is one that last longer than a few minutes. The disorder develops when these attacks are frequent and cause the person to spend time between attacks in constant fear of the next episode. Symptoms include terror, coupled with a strong physical reaction similar to a heart attack. Proper diagnosis and treatment are available with the help of a trained therapist.

Severe panic disorder is characterized by multiple, severe panic attacks. A panic attack is the sudden onset of intense fear, often without a clear trigger point or cause. Panic attacks induce a severe physical reaction, similar to a heart attack. When people experience a panic attack for the first time, they often believe they are having a heart attack.

Panic attacks can be triggered by phobias, such as a fear of heights.
Panic attacks can be triggered by phobias, such as a fear of heights.

Physical symptoms of severe panic attack disorder vary with each attack and individual. Common symptoms are dizziness, difficulty breathing, and sweating. Chills, hot flashes, and trouble swallowing are also symptoms of a severe panic attack. These symptoms typically peak within 10 minutes, but usually don't last longer than an hour. Some severe cases have lasted all day.

A person who has experienced a panic attack in a public space such as an elevator could develop agoraphobia.
A person who has experienced a panic attack in a public space such as an elevator could develop agoraphobia.

Many people have one or two panic attacks in their lifetime and never develop a panic disorder. Severe panic disorder, however, develops when panic attacks occur frequently. The frequency of these terrifying episodes begin to affect day-to-day levels of anxiety because the person feels out of control, not knowing when another panic attack will strike. The effects can be debilitating, resulting in constant fear of having a panic attack.

A person experiencing a panic attack may feel as though he is having a heart attack.
A person experiencing a panic attack may feel as though he is having a heart attack.

People who experience more than four severe panic attacks and have spent more than a month in constant fear of another attack are diagnosed with severe panic disorder. Another common symptom of this disorder is avoidance of situations believed to bring about panic attacks. Unfortunately, this avoidance is not effective and can result in an additional anxiety disorder called agoraphobia, which is when fear prevents a person from leaving his or her home.

Severe panic attacks may have a debilitating impact on a person's life.
Severe panic attacks may have a debilitating impact on a person's life.

The cause of severe panic disorder remains unclear. Researchers believe that stress, genetics, and brain function all may play some part in the onset of this disorder. Some experts believe that panic attacks and panic disorders are a glitch in the body's natural fight-or-flight response to danger.

Fortunately, severe panic disorder is very treatable with the help of a trained therapist. The most effective treatments are psychotherapy and medication. If left untreated, this disorder can lead to other mental or physical health problems. Some of these problems include phobias, such as agoraphobia, social difficulties, and increased risk of suicide.

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    • Panic attacks can be triggered by phobias, such as a fear of heights.
      By: Sergey Mostovoy
      Panic attacks can be triggered by phobias, such as a fear of heights.
    • A person who has experienced a panic attack in a public space such as an elevator could develop agoraphobia.
      By: Carsten Reisinger
      A person who has experienced a panic attack in a public space such as an elevator could develop agoraphobia.
    • A person experiencing a panic attack may feel as though he is having a heart attack.
      By: Dan Kosmayer
      A person experiencing a panic attack may feel as though he is having a heart attack.
    • Severe panic attacks may have a debilitating impact on a person's life.
      By: David Stuart
      Severe panic attacks may have a debilitating impact on a person's life.
    • Panic attacks are sudden, debilitating bouts of intense fear.
      By: kmiragaya
      Panic attacks are sudden, debilitating bouts of intense fear.
    • Treatment for a panic disorder may include learning relaxations tips for when an anxiety attack is triggered.
      By: Andrew Lever
      Treatment for a panic disorder may include learning relaxations tips for when an anxiety attack is triggered.
    • Overcoming panic disorder generally takes time.
      By: blanche
      Overcoming panic disorder generally takes time.