Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder in which a person experiences recurrent panic attacks. A panic attack is a feeling of intense fear when there is no real threat or danger.
Panic disorder is usually diagnosed between the ages of 18 and 24. More women than men have the condition and it can run in families.
Along with unexplained and paralyzing fear, a person with panic disorder may experience a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, chest pains, dizziness, hot flashes, and chills. Other symptoms may include shaking, trembling, sweating, and tingling in the fingers or toes. Some people may feel like they're losing control, having a heart attack, or dying. Symptoms usually last for 10-20 minutes but can last up to an hour or more.
Attacks can occur without a specific trigger or warning. For this reason, many people with panic disorder have difficulty participating in everyday routines like going to work or school for fear of having an attack in public.
Left untreated panic disorder can be a debilitating illness that leads to depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and many other problems. With medication and behavioral therapy, however, panic disorders can be successfully managed and most people suffering from the disorder can go on to live normal lives.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.
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