Panic Disorder

At least 1.6 percent of adult Americans, or 3 million people, will have panic disorder at some time in their lives. Panic disorder is a serious health problem and is very different from other types of anxiety. Panic attacks are sudden, appear to be unprovoked, and are often disabling. If you have panic disorder, you may feel suddenly terrified for no reason. During a panic attack, you also have scary physical feelings like a fast heartbeat, trouble breathing, or dizziness.

Panic attacks can happen at any time and any place without warning. Many people with panic disorder develop intense anxiety between episodes. It is not unusual for a person with panic disorder to develop phobias about places or situations where panic attacks have occurred, such as in supermarkets or other everyday situations.

It usually starts when people are young adults, around 18 to 24 years old. Sometimes it starts when a person is under a lot of stress, for example after the death of a loved one or after having a baby. Anyone can have panic disorder, but more women than men have the illness. It sometimes runs in families.

Speaking to a specially trained doctor or counselor who can teach you ways to cope with your panic attacks helps many people with panic disorder. Therapy will help you feel less afraid and anxious. Thanks to research, there are a variety of treatments available, including several effective medications, and also specific forms of psychotherapy. Often, a combination of psychotherapy and medications produces good results.

It is extremely important for a person suffering from panic disorder to understand that help is available. Tragically, many people with panic disorder do not seek or receive treatment.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is the agency of the U.S. government responsible for improving the mental health of the American people by supporting research on the brain and mental disorders and by increasing public understanding of these conditions and their treatment. NIMH is sponsoring a major information campaign to acquaint the public and health care professionals with this disorder.