Panic disorder, or panic attack, produces a life threatening response to an external stimulant that does not exist. There is an outpouring of the sympathetic nervous system, which produces a flight or fight response. The heart rate increases, you can feel your heart pound, respiratory rate increases and your palms become sweaty. This is a fairly common disorder, affecting up to 2% of the population. It is often a recurrent disorder. It produces attacks that typically lasts from 2 to 10 minutes, but some may extend over an hour or two.
Causes of Panic Disorder
The brainís alarm system is influenced by a complex interaction of many factors. These factors include biologic factors, genetics, illnesses, drugs and oneís own personal history of traumatic events. They all can lead to an overwhelming emotional and biochemical output of the nervous system that may not be in response to an actual threat. Many disorders may mimic panic attacks. These include diseases that affect the same organs that might be involved with panic disorders, such as heart rhythm problems, angina, respiratory illness, asthma, obstructive pulmonary disease, endocrine disorders, seizure disorders, stimulating drugs and withdrawal from certain drugs.
Signs and Symptoms of Panic Disorder
The physical symptoms of panic disorder are related, in part, to the sympathetic nervous system. This is one of the oldest parts of the nervous system. Stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system causes the release of catecholamines from the adrenal glands and stimulates the heart. It produces the flight or fight response, the physiological means for the body to survive. The heart rate increases and the heart pumps more forcefully. Irregular heart beats may occur. Sweating and trembling may occur. You may feel lightheaded or faint. Some people will complain of numbness and tingling of the mouth, the hands and the feet. This may be related to hyperventilation. You may feel butterflies in the stomach. Panic attacks produce severe emotional responses. There may be an intense fear of losing oneís mind (fear of going crazy). Others suffering from this disorder may fear dying, or have a sense of terror, doom or dread. The sensations may provoke a sense of unreality and give the sensation of a loss of contact with people and objects.
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Medical Content Last Updated on 07/12/2008
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