A panic disorder is the repeated occurrence of sudden panic attacks, resulting in a prolonged period of fear, anxiety or inconvenience. A panic attack is a short period of time (minutes) of intense distress or discomfort. Such an attack is experienced as catastrophic. The fear of a panic attack can dominate a person’s life.


Why some people have panic disorder is not clear. The following factors may play a role:


An attack in a panic disorder may show the following signs and symptoms:


The diagnosis of panic disorder is made when a person has had at least two unprovoked and unexpected panic attacks, followed by at least a month-long fear of yet another attack. The frequency of attacks can vary considerably. Some people have an attack for months on a weekly or even daily basis, while others have an attack a few days in a row and then weeks or months none.


The treatment of a panic disorder can include medicines (antidepressants or tranquillizers), cognitive behavioral therapy or a combination of both.
Cognitive therapy focuses on the thinking pattern of the patient and let him or her realize that the anxiety is the result of a misinterpretation of physical symptoms, such as rapid heartbeat. Formulating a more realistic interpretation is a large part of cognitive therapy. Behavioral therapy is often effective, because this therapy treats the avoidant behavior of the patient.


A panic disorder can last several years. Periods of high and few symptoms alternate. The panic symptoms are often (rapidly) getting worse. Most people have more and more symptoms within one year after the first panic attack. Half of people have a panic disorder within two years after the first panic attack.
Only thirty to fifty percent of patients recover from panic disorder after six or seven years. They have had no panic symptoms anymore for one year. This doesn’t mean that they function all well again and have returned to the same quality of life.


A person can do a lot to reduce the symptoms: