Panic disorder is diagnosed in people who experience spontaneous, seemingly out-of-the-blue, panic attacks and are preoccupied with the fear of a recurring attack. Panic attacks occur unexpectedly, sometimes even during sleep.
A panic attack is the abrupt onset of intense fear that reaches a peak within a few minutes and includes at least four of the following symptoms:
- a feeling of imminent danger or doom
- shortness of breath or a smothering feeling
- nausea or abdominal discomfort
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- a sense of things being unreal, depersonalization
- a fear of losing control or “going crazy”
Panic Disorder With Agoraphobia
Some people stop going into situations or places in which they’ve previously had a panic attack in anticipation of it happening again. These people have agoraphobia, and they typically avoid public places where they feel immediate escape might be difficult, such as shopping malls, public transportation, or large sports arenas. Their world may become smaller as they are constantly on guard, waiting for the next panic attack. Some people develop a fixed route or territory, and it may become impossible for them to travel beyond their safety zones without suffering severe anxiety.