Panic Attacks and Mental Disorder


Anxiety and panic are natural human feelings that serve as protection mechanisms. However, “it is abnormal to feel strong chronic anxiety without cause. Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive fear in the absence of true danger” (Grison et al. 505). This report will investigate the nature of the panic disorder which “consists of sudden, overwhelming attacks of terror and worry about having additional panic attacks” (Grison et al. 508).

Panic disorder is officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as a diagnostic criterion under DSM-5 and has gained clinical and scientific attention in recent years. The condition leads to recurrent paroxysmal panic attacks that are associated with a change in behavior and phobia, including fear of future attacks. The prevalence of panic disorder is 4.7% over a lifetime and can lead to disability (Chen and Tsai 219)


Panic disorder is a condition which has not been extensively studied from an etiological perspective. It is generally considered to emerge from a combination of environmental, biological, and psychological aspects influencing the person. Often, people suffering from panic disorders form a version of the origin of their condition, which is based on socio-cultural and psychological perceptions, known as cause dimension. In turn, this may impact a patient’s ability to function and willingness to seek treatment (El Amiri et al. 155).

Genetic predisposition may be a factor in the development of panic disorders about 40% of the time (De Cort et al. 60). However, it considered that environmental causes are the primary risk factors for panic disorders. Fear conditioning is the mechanism responsible for the etiology of the condition, especially as it evolves from isolated attacks to a comprehensive panic disorder. Fear conditioning results in a neutral conditioned stimulus being paired with an intrinsically aversive stimulus. Through the process of associative learning, the conditioned stimulus elicits a conditioned fear response in the form of panic attacks (De Cort et al. 60).

Symptoms and Characteristics

Patients with panic disorders often experience somatic physiological symptoms that are characteristic of emergency cardiovascular conditions. These symptoms include heart palpitations, nausea, trouble breathing, and chest pains. Additional physiological responses such as sweating, shaking, and temperature changes are evident. Furthermore, the psychological pressure results in the evident display of phobias that may include seemingly realistic fear of death, loss of control, as well as derealization and detachment (Greenslade et al. 1311).

Panic disorder may have different manifestations depending on age, gender and culture. While Caucasian women may be prone to respiratory symptoms, African-American men may report neurological and gastrointestinal characteristics. Sensitivity to anxiety, the perplexity of fear, and the burden of the disease varies significantly from person to person, which makes panic disorder so challenging to study, diagnose, and treat (Sawchuk et al. 7).

Treatment and Management

Panic disorder can be treated with pharmacological intervention in combination treatment of atypical antipsychotics with antidepressants that have shown positive outcomes. The condition often results in comorbidities including depression or bipolar disorder, which may worsen the manifestation of panic attacks. Therefore, treating panic disorder along with potential co-morbidities lead to improvement in symptoms. Non-pharmacological interventions are commonly used as well, including psychotherapy in the form of cognitive-behavioral therapy. Neuro-stimulation therapy has been used as well. Further alternate therapies such as yoga or herbal medicine may contribute to improved mental health. The type of treatment and response depends greatly on individual patients (Chen and Tsai 222).

Patients that do not receive treatment for panic disorder experience a detrimental long-term prognosis that is exhibited through chronic psychiatric disorders and significant impact on overall health which results in increased rates of medical utilization (Greenslade et al. 1311). Panic disorder should be addressed through a multidimensional approach that seeks to treat the various physiological and psychological symptoms of the condition. In addition to medication and therapy, the condition is managed efficiently by monitoring environment factors and using lifestyle changes in terms of exercise, vitamins, and proper sleep. A prompt and competent intervention for panic disorder patients can significantly reduce long-term debilitating effects and prevent disability (Chen and Tsai 223).

Works Cited

Chen, Mu-Hong, and Shih-Jen Tsai. “Treatment-resistant Panic Disorder: Clinical Significance, Concept and Management.” Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, vol. 70, 2016, pp. 219-226. Web.

De Cort, Klara, et al. “Modeling the Development of Panic Disorder with Interoceptive Conditioning.” European Neuropsychopharmacology, vol. 27, no. 1, 2017, pp. 59-69. Web.

El Amiri, Sawsane, et al. “Predictors of Etiological Beliefs About Panic Disorder and Impact of Beliefs on Treatment Outcomes.” Psychiatry Research, vol. 264, 2018, pp. 155-161. Web.

Greenslade, Jaimi, et al. “Panic Disorder in Patients Presenting to the Emergency Department with Chest Pain: Prevalence and Presenting Symptoms.” Heart, Lung, and Circulation, vol. 26, no. 12, 2017, pp. 1310-1316. Web.

Grison, Sarah, et al. Psychology in Your Life. 2nd ed., W. W. Norton & Company, 2016.

Sawchuk, Craig, et al. “Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder in the American Indian Community.” Journal of Anxiety Disorders, vol. 48, 2017, pp. 6-12. Web.