Panic disorder is not the same as anxiety or a single panic attack. Symptoms of panic disorder include frequent and unexpected panic attacks. Most people experience anxiety and up to 40 percent of us have a panic attack at some stage during our lives. People who have recurring panic attacks are more likely to have panic disorder, and this affects one to two percent of people.
Agoraphobia is classified separately from panic disorder because some people have symptoms of agoraphobia without experiencing a panic attack. However, some people will have panic attacks along with their other symptoms of agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is fear or anxiety of being in situations where you feel you cannot escape.
Not everyone who has a panic attack has a panic disorder, but having recurring panic attacks is a symptom of panic disorder. Some people with agoraphobia have panic attacks, but you can have agoraphobia without having panic attacks.
Panic attacks occur suddenly. Symptoms can vary for different people, but they hit their peak within ten minutes. We do not know the exact causes of panic disorder or agoraphobia, but there are several risk factors, including:
• a family history of anxiety disorders or depressive illness
• negative life experiences
• extremely stressful experiences
• physical medical conditions
Healthcare professionals who can diagnose a mental health condition include your doctor, a psychiatrist and some psychologists. They will ask about your medical history and then refer you to other healthcare professionals if required.
Some healthcare professionals may ask you to fill in some forms, which will also ask you a range of questions about your symptoms, moods and panic attacks. This will help the healthcare professional to understand and diagnose your problem so you can get the best treatment possible.
To fit the criteria for a diagnosis of panic disorder, you will need to have experienced the symptoms of panic disorder. Your doctor will also need to confirm that medication, substances or other physical or mental health conditions are not causing your symptoms.
To fit the criteria for a diagnosis of agoraphobia, you will need to have experienced the symptoms of agoraphobia and some additional signs.
Having early treatment is important for recovery from panic disorder or agoraphobia. It can be very effective in reducing the number of panic attacks for most people. The first step is to visit your doctor and get professional help.
The treatment for panic disorder or agoraphobia is medication or psychological therapies. You can also change your life to support your treatment.
Treatment for panic disorder or agoraphobia can include either antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication. We can also use antidepressant medication to treat anxiety.
You can improve your mental health by staying connected with friends and family, or going along to support groups. Other ways you can support your own mental wellbeing include:
• eating a healthy diet
• searching online to find information or courses
• seeking support groups or online forums
• staying connected with family and friends
• training in relaxation practices.