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Panic Disorder

  • Amy Scholten, MPH
Publication Type:


Panic Disorder


Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. It produces feelings of terror and intense physical symptoms. It can feel similar to a heart attack. These are called panic attacks.

Panic attacks can cause people to avoid places and events that trigger attacks. This can cause a lot of problems in day-to-day life and relationships.

Treatment can help manage this condition.


The cause of panic disorders is not clear. A mix of events, genetics, or other health problems may play a role. They may cause changes in how the brain understands and reacts to stress.

Risk Factors

Panic disorder often starts in early adulthood. Things that may raise the risk include:

  • A family history of anxiety
  • Poor coping skills
  • Past physical or sexual abuse
  • Stressful life events
  • High sensitivity to physical sensations
  • Having anxiety or another anxiety disorder
  • Cigarette smoking


Panic attacks can cause:

  • Uncomfortable emotions, such as:
    • Sudden and intense episodes of fear
    • An urge to flee
    • Fear of impending doom such as death, a heart attack, suffocation, loss of control, or embarrassment
    • Unreality, or being detached from the body
  • Racing, pounding, or skipping heartbeats
  • Chest pain, pressure, or discomfort
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Choking sensation or lump in the throat
  • Excessive sweating
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Tingling or numbness in parts of the body
  • Chills or hot flashes
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Stomach pain
Symptoms of Anxiety.

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The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will ask questions about mental health and stresses. Diagnosis will be based on symptoms that repeat.


Treatment can help to decrease the number and intensity of panic attacks. It can improve quality of life. There is no one plan for treatment. A combination of steps will be planned based on the person's needs. Treatment steps may include:

  • Learning about panic disorder
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy—thinking and breathing techniques to help the person relax
  • Healthy behaviors, such as:
    • Regular exercise—at least 30 minutes per day
    • Better sleep habits
    • Decreased use of caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and other harmful substances
  • Medicines, such as:
    • Antidepressants
    • Benzodiazepines—has higher risk of addiction


There are no steps to reduce the risk of a panic disorder.





  • Answers to your questions about panic disorder. American Psychological Association website. Available at: http://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety/panic-disorder.
  • Locke AB, Kirst N, et al. Diagnosis and management of generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2015;91(9):617-24.
  • Panic disorder. Anxiety and Depression Association of America website. Available at: https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/panic-disorder.
  • Panic disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/panic-disorder.


  • Adrian Preda, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.