panic attack or panic disorder

Is It Panic or a Panic Attack?

If you hear noises in the night and suspect someone has broken into your home, your heart will begin to race, your palms will become sweaty, your mouth will go dry, and you will leap from your bed, ready for action, either to fight or flee, depending on the circumstances. This is a potentially dangerous situation, and you have every right to feel extremely nervous, even terrified.

But suppose you’re lying in your bed and you don’t hear noises in the night, but you do experience all those same reactions. Your heart begins pounding so hard it feels as if it will leap out of your chest, you begin to perspire, tremble, your mouth goes dry, and you want to either fight or flee, but there’s nothing there to fight or run away from.

In the first example you may later describe yourself as having had a panic attack, when what you were actually feeling was panicky. A true panic attack is described in the second example, when you have all the feelings of terror induced by, say, a nighttime intruder, but with no known cause. In addition, you may experience a host of other symptoms, including chest pain, nausea, shortness of breath, fear of losing control or fear that you’re going crazy, and fear of dying, among others.

If all the medical tests reveal no physical cause for your symptoms, then you probably suffer from panic disorder. This can be life altering and debilitating, unless treated properly, but know that you’re not alone. The American Psychological Association (APA) estimates that one out of every 75 Americans experiences panic disorder at some point in their lives. That’s approximately three million people. In fact, such famous people as Charles Darwin, Abraham Lincoln, Sigmund Freud and—more recently—Johnny Depp, Barbra Streisand, Kim Basinger, and Adele, among so many others, have all experienced panic disorder.

If you have had two or more panic attacks, live in fear of having another, and have changed your lifestyle in any way to avoid them, this is officially diagnosed as panic disorder. When you first visit your internists at MGSFL we will examine your medical history and perform a complete battery of tests to rule out an actual physical disorder. As you may have noticed, many of the symptoms listed above can also be symptoms of more serious diseases. That’s why your doctors of internal medicine at The Medical Group of South Florida in Jupiter, Florida, will want to rule those out before diagnosing panic disorder.

When panic disorder is diagnosed, you will be relieved to know that, first it’s not a serious physical disease, and second, it can be treated. We may prescribe anti-anxiety medication or antidepressants, and recommend such proven therapies as deep breathing and exercise. You will also want to explore cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which can help you retrain your reactions to the symptoms, thus lessening their hold over you.

The important thing to know is that you don’t have to suffer with panic attacks. We can help ease your mind and guide you on a path back toward recovery.