Panic attacks can happen to anyone given the right set of circumstances. Panic Disorder occurs in approximately 3.5% of the population. However the true proportion is likely to be much higher as sufferers, particularly males, do not seek treatment for the disorder for a variety of reasons. These reasons range from embarrassment, inability to attend a doctor’s office, or fear of being diagnosed as insane.
Males typically manage the problem via the use of alcohol to temporarily mask symptoms, although this is also a common technique utilized by females, particularly those in the workplace who cannot afford to leave their employment.
In order to be diagnosed with Panic Disorder (with or without Agoraphobia), the following criteria must be present:
1. Recurrent unexpected panic attacks are present.
2. At least one of the attacks has been followed by a) persistent concern about have another attack, b) worrying about the implications of the attacks( e.g. fear of a heart attack, fear of going mad, or c) significant changes in behavior as related to the attacks (e.g. avoidance of certain situations).
3. Fear of being in places where escape is difficult or embarrassing, or situations in which help is not available should a panic occur. These include being alone outside the home, being in tunnels, bridges, in confined places such as railway carriages, or trapped at red lights.
4. The panic attacks are not due to the effects of an ingested substance such as a legal or illegal drug.
5. The panic attacks are not better accounted for by other conditions such as Social Phobia, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
To meet the criteria, the person must experience a panic attack followed by concern over the likelihood of others occurring, and be of the belief that the attack heralds death or incapacitation. Avoidance is also a key criterion in the case of Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia. As the condition progresses, the person finds themselves increasingly housebound and unable to lead a normal life.
Next article: Treatment options for this distressing condition.
Contact Beth McHugh for further information or assistance regarding this issue.