Diagnosing panic disorders

Everyone who has panic disorder will experience panic attacks.

However, not everyone who has panic attacks is diagnosed with panic disorder.

Panic attacks

Some people have panic attacks in response to specific situations. For example, they may have a phobia (overwhelming fear) of enclosed spaces (claustrophobia) and have a panic attack when faced with an enclosed space.

While most people with phobias only experience panic attacks when faced with the thing that triggers their fear, the panic attacks of people with panic disorder usually occur without warning and for no obvious reason.

This means that panic disorder will only be diagnosed after experiencing recurrent and unexpected panic attacks, and if the attacks are followed by at least one month of continuous worry or concern about having further attacks.

Talk to your GP

Your GP will ask you to describe the symptoms you’ve been experiencing. They’ll also ask you how often your symptoms occur and in what situations.

It’s important to tell your GP about how you’ve been feeling and how your symptoms have affected you.

Although it can sometimes be difficult to talk to someone else about your feelings, emotions and personal life, try not to feel anxious or embarrassed.

Your GP needs to gain a good understanding of your symptoms to make the correct diagnosis and recommend the most appropriate treatment for you.

Physical examination

Your GP may also want to carry out a physical examination to look for signs of any physical conditions that could be causing your symptoms.

For example, an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) can sometimes cause similar symptoms to a panic attack.

By ruling out any underlying medical conditions, your GP will be able to make the correct diagnosis.

Panic attacks

A panic attack occurs when your body experiences a rush of intense psychological (mental) and physical symptoms.

You may experience an overwhelming sense of fear, apprehension and anxiety. As well as these feelings, you may also have physical symptoms such as:

nausea

sweating

trembling

a sensation that your heart is beating irregularly (palpitations)

The number of panic attacks you have will depend on how severe your condition is. Some people may have one or two attacks each month, while others may have several attacks a week.

Read more about the symptoms of panic disorder.

Panic attacks can be very frightening and intense, but they’re not dangerous. An attack won’t cause you any physical harm, and it’s unlikely that you’ll be admitted to hospital if you’ve had a panic attack.

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