Experiencing a sense of fear or a lack of self-control can be terrifying. Even more so, when you deal with these feelings’ multiple times, it can be especially scary. This leads many people to wonder if they have a type of anxiety disorder called panic disorder. In this article, we’re going to discuss what panic disorder is and how to know you have it.
What is Panic Disorder?
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, panic disorder is one of the five major types of anxiety disorders. It is characterized by having recurring panic attacks. A panic attack is an episode in which someone may get dizzy, start to shake uncontrollably, have heart palpitations, shivers, chest pain, shortness of breath, and other symptoms. Most people have a panic attack at some point in their life, but not everyone has multiple episodes within a few months of each other.
According to the Mayo Clinic, patients have to have frequent and unexpected panic attacks to get this diagnosis. So, most people are diagnosed with panic disorder after having a handful of episodes. Because it can take some time to realize the need for counseling, some people wait until they have a few of these attacks. Also, many patients avoid certain situations or people because they are afraid of having another panic attack.
How to Know You Have Panic Disorder
It can be difficult to know if you have panic disorder or another type of anxiety disorder. But there are some distinct symptoms of panic disorder that other anxiety disorders don’t have.
You Experience Debilitating Fear or Doom Randomly
Many people with panic disorder describe it as debilitating fear or doom. It’s difficult to describe the feeling, but it feels like your body is shutting down and your mind is moving a hundred miles per minute. With an anxiety attack, your mind is moving a hundred miles per minute as well, but you likely don’t have severe physical symptoms. The worst anxiety attacks usually result in heart racing and sweating. But they rarely end up in feelings of choking, full-body shaking, or fainting.
You Get Chest Pain and Shake
A very common symptom of panic attacks is chest pain and violently shaking. These symptoms are likely because your body is in fight or flight mode. During a panic attack, your body thinks there is a real danger, so it is working very hard to cope. With shaking, this can happen because there is excess adrenaline and stress. So, your body is ramping up to be ready to fight or flee from the danger, but you stay in place. This priming can result in you shaking uncontrollably.
On the other hand, chest pain from a panic attack can happen because of a few reasons. First, your heart is pounding and working so hard to process the excess oxygen that it begins to cramp. Second, it may be because of bloating due to the increased pressure in your lungs. Third, it may be all in your head, which can be difficult to hear. But a panic attack can make you worry about random issues and convince you they’re real. With both chest pain and shaking, most anxiety disorders don’t have these symptoms, at least with not every anxiety attack.
You Were Diagnosed with Panic Disorder by a Health Professional
A health professional has the training necessary to know the difference between panic disorder and other anxiety disorders. They can take you through the screening process to see if you have a disorder in the first place, and if it is panic disorder. Additionally, they can help you get the treatment you need to minimize your panic attacks as much as possible.
When it comes to the type of health professional you should see, you have several options. Many patients prefer going to a mental health professional specifically because of their specialization. For example, a podiatrist is a highly educated doctor, but they wouldn’t be your first choice to get treatment for a hormonal issue. The same goes for therapists, counselors, and psychiatrists. However, in some rural areas, a Doctor of Medicine or a General Practitioner is the only resource around, besides online therapy. This can be a positive thing, as these doctors can prescribe you medication, if needed, for the treatment of panic disorder.
A Panic Disorder Test Indicates You Have It
Another way to know if you have panic disorder is if a panic disorder test indicates you do. Keep in mind that these tests aren’t a professional’s diagnosis. Every test should have a disclaimer that says not to take the test results as a diagnosis. But most tests from reliable websites are fairly accurate. So, if you take a test and it says you have panic disorder, schedule an appointment with a licensed counselor. There is a good chance you have some type of anxiety disorder if a test says you do. However, you can only be certain by getting a diagnosis from a professional.
Panic Disorder vs. Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are extremely similar mental health disorders. Both can have no triggers at all, but can leave patients in a shaking, heavy breathing mess. Also, both disorders have worrying, and severe anxiety involved. So, let’s go over the differences between these two disorders.
Generalized anxiety disorder patients experience:
- Worry over life events, despite not having an anxiety attack
- Lower quality of life due to constant worrying
- Difficulty concentrating due to their worries
- Muscle tension
- Jaw clenching
- Anxiety attacks after worrying excessively for several minutes or hours
Panic disorder patients experience:
- Worrying about having a panic attack
- Random panic attacks with seemingly no trigger
- Excessive shaking for seemingly no reason
- Feeling as though you can’t breathe or are choking
- Nausea or vomiting
- Fear of dying due to the panic attack
As you can see, these two disorders sound similar, but can be very different. To summarize, GAD sufferers have constant worry and anxiety attacks triggered by worrying. On the other hand, panic disorder sufferers have panic attacks with seemingly no trigger and more severe symptoms. Your healthcare professional, whether they be a doctor or counselor, should be able to decipher the two since the difference between the two is very important for treatment.
Seek Treatment for Panic Disorder
Overall, it’s very important to seek treatment for panic disorder. Your body going into full panic mode to where you’re shaking, fainting, or having heart palpitations puts a great deal of stress on your body. You should only have those symptoms in real danger, rather than randomly. So, do seek treatment as quickly as possible if you have a panic attack more than once.
Marie Miguel Biography:
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with Mind-Diagnostics.org. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.