What is Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder involves recurring experiences of panic, i.e., surges of intense fear and anxiety that can peak in a very short period of time. Panic attacks may occur with no obvious warning or triggers, meaning that they seem to occur out of the blue. Some people have expected panic attacks in which there is a clear trigger or expectation of one occurring.


The prevalence of panic disorder is around 2-3% in adults and adolescents and much less in children (<0.4%). Females are typically 2x more likely to be affected by panic disorder than men. The onset can occur around puberty and peak during adulthood in females.

Signs and Symptoms

Depending on whether they are expected or unexpected, panic attacks are intense periods of fear typically triggering physical symptoms like shortness of breath, increased heart rate, feeling faint or dizzy, sweating, a sense of impending doom, a feeling of unreality or detachment, trembling or shaking, and will often make people want escape the situation they are in to relieve the symptoms. However, they may not know what triggered the panic in the first place. Panic attacks will occur when there is no real obvious danger. They can be very frightening and cause a person to feel as though they are losing control, having a heart attack, or even dying. A common occurrence after the first panic attack is the fear of having another one.


Like many other types of anxiety disorders, panic disorder can be treated with a combination of psychotherapy, like cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), and medications like SSRIs, SNRIs, and benzodiazepines. A physician may recommend trying one medication or a combination of medications to help the individual get control of the anxiety. Psychodynamic psychotherapy has also been shown to be effective for people with panic disorder.



The DSM-5 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5

The Mayo Clinic: Mayoclinic.org

Video resource: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxELZyA2bJs