What Is It?
Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. A person with panic disorder has panic attacks. These are repeated, unexpected episodes of intense fear and anxiety accompanied by physical symptoms that are similar to the body's normal response to danger.
If you are truly in danger (for example, if you are confronted by a criminal with a gun), your body readies itself for "fight or flight." Heart rate increases. Blood rushes to arm and leg muscles, causing a trembling or tingling sensation. You may sweat and become flushed. You become intensely fearful, aroused and very alert. For people having a panic attack, these changes occur even though there is no danger. At the height of a panic attack, there may be a frightening feeling that the environment has somehow become unreal or detached. The person may worry about dying, having a heart attack, losing control or "going crazy."
Some people with panic disorder have several panic attacks every day, while others go weeks or months between attacks. Since panic attacks occur without warning even during sleep people who suffer from panic disorder are usually anxious that an attack may begin at any moment. They worry not only about the psychological pain and physical discomfort of the panic attack, but also that their extreme behavior during a panic episode might embarrass them or frighten others. This unshakable fear and anticipation eventually may lead to avoiding public places where it would be difficult or embarrassing to make a sudden exit.