What is Panic Disorder?
By: Beth McHugh 2006
Do you know someone who seldom seems to leave the house, or if they do they leave in the company of another person? Are they reluctant to accept invitations to weddings, attend social events, or even have a cup of coffee at your place, but are more than happy to hold functions at their own residence? Then that person may be suffering from Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia.
Panic attacks are frightening events and often occur after an isolated trauma or, alternatively, after a long period of sustained stress. The attacks are terrifying and appear to come out of the blue and consist of all or most of the following symptoms:
- Heart palpitations
- Feeling of tightness or inability to take in enough air
- Tension in the muscles of the back and neck
- Muscle spasms
- Excessive sweating
- Dryness of the month
- Digestive disturbances
- Constant need to urinate or defecate
- Fear of dying
- Fear of going mad
- Feeling you are about to explode
Clearly, these are very frightening symptoms and sufferers of these attacks often believe they are going to die, even when they have had many panic attacks previously. Panic will often initially occur in an innocuous setting, such as a supermarket queue, at a set of traffic lights, in a crowded shopping mall.
Once one or two attacks have occurred, it is natural for the person to start avoiding the places which he or she associates with the panic, so life begins to become more restricted as more and more places are avoided in order to stave off another one of these frightening attacks.
Ultimately, the panic attack sufferer ends up with an additional diagnosis: Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia (PDA). In this case, the person’s life is moderately to severely restricted, and often employment is impossible as the condition progresses. Sufferers are trapped inside their homes, and in some cases, in small sections of their homes, unable to even hang washing on the line or collect the daily mail.
The condition is extremely painful for sufferers as panic attacks seem to come out of nowhere, leaving the person more stressed and less able to deal with the next attack. Misunderstanding by family and friends lead to further distress for the sufferer, creating a never-ending cycle of stress and anxiety.
Next article: Case Studies.