Panic disorder is characterised by panic attacks with symptoms like palpitations, sweating, tremors, chest tightness, shortness of breath, dizziness, a fear of going insane, fear of death and similar symptoms, and the fear of repeat attacks.
Panic disorders are generally dealt with as a major psychiatric syndrome under the heading of anxiety disorders.
The probability of occurrence throughout a person’s lifetime varies between 1-4%.
Panic disorder is an illness with a hereditary aspect. Apart from this, not much is known about the causes of the disorder.
In patients suffering from panic disorder we can detect certain electrophysiological, chemical and structural changes in the brain. There are problems with the sensitivity of GABA/benzodiazepine receptors. Anatomical changes are observed in the brain centres that deal with fear. We encounter EEG findings characterised by an increase in fast frequencies. Intravenous lactic acid injections can induce panic attacks in people predisposed to the disorder.
The nervous system, vegetative system which generally deals with the mechanisms of involuntary movements of the body, show a sympathetic increase. The body perceives danger and enters the ‘flight or fight’ mode.
Panic attacks can develop by themselves or as a result of certain stimuli. For example, someone who is afraid of spiders can panic when confronted with a spider.
There are many medical illnesses that panic attacks can be mistaken for. Epilepsy, thyroid dysfunction, dysfunction of the sugar metabolism are some of them.
The disorder generally takes a chronic course.
In treatment, drugs and behavioural-cognitive psychotherapy are used together.
Prof. Dr. Kemal Arıkan