Panic Disorder | Overview

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What is panic disorder?

Panic disorder is a condition in which a person has episodes of intense fear or anxiety that occur suddenly, often without warning. Suppose one day you're getting out of your car to go to work. Suddenly, your chest feels tight. Your heart races. You begin to feel dizzy and faint. You start to choke. You feel as if you could be dying. Was it all in your head? No. Most likely, you had a panic attack.

Panic attacks can last from minutes to hours. They may occur only once in a while, or they may occur quite frequently. The cause, or "trigger," for these attacks may not be obvious. A diagnosis of panic disorder is usually made after a person experiences at least 2 panic attacks that occur without reason and are followed by a period of at least 1 month of fear that another attack will happen. Panic attacks can lead to phobias if they aren't treated.

What is a phobia?

A phobia is an extreme, unreasonable fear in response to something specific. There are lots of different phobias, including fear of crowds, bridges, snakes, spiders, heights, open places or social embarrassment.

A phobia is only considered a problem when it keeps you from living a normal life. An example is being afraid to leave home because you are afraid of one of the things listed above.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 04/14
Created: 11/95

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