what is a panic disorder?

What is Panic Disorder? Symptoms and Treatment Options

As you go about your day, everything seems fine. But then, all of a sudden, your heart pounds rapidly in your chest. You feel like your throat is closing up. You need more air, but you can’t seem to breathe properly. You feel your palms start to sweat as the world around you spins out of control. Your stomach churns, and your fingers begin to tingle.

You think, “This is it. I’m having a heart attack. I’m going to die!” 

But you’re not dying. You’re experiencing a panic attack. And it’s terrifying. 

Panic attacks are sudden episodes characterized by extreme fear, leading to uncomfortable and often debilitating physical reactions. They can happen a few times a year to several times every day. Often, panic attacks occur out of the blue, which makes them even more frightening – you never know when they’re going to sneak up on you.

But another disorder goes beyond panic attacks – panic disorder. 

Panic Disorder Treatment

Defining Panic Disorder

You may think being susceptible to panic attacks is the same as having panic disorder. While the two are connected, they aren’t exactly the same thing.
“So what is panic disorder, then?” you may be asking.

Panic disorder is defined as having frequent, recurrent, and unexpected panic attacks that leave you feeling overwhelmed with anxiety, stress, dread, and like you’re losing control or having a heart attack. And when you live in fear of another panic attack for an extended time (which is understandable, panic attacks are no joke), you may have panic disorder.

Generally speaking, panic disorder could be at play if you have had four or more panic attacks in a relatively short time and fear having another. 

And if you have panic disorder, it can make living life extremely challenging. 

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Panic Disorder Symptoms

As previously mentioned, just because you have panic attacks doesn’t mean you have panic disorder. However, panic disorder doesn’t exist without panic attacks. So the panic disorder symptoms mirror the symptoms of panic attacks but occur along with the dread of future occurrences.

  • rapid heartbeat
  • sweating
  • tingling fingers
  • nausea
  • chest pains that may mimic heart attack symptoms
  • dizziness
  • fear of losing control or dying
  • shaking
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • shortness of breath
  • headache

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Causes and Risk Factors of Panic Disorder

Unfortunately, the jury is still out on the exact cause of panic disorder. However, experts agree panic disorder occurs due to a combination of environmental and genetic factors.

Genetic Factors

Genetics play a significant role in many mental health concerns, panic disorder included. Suppose you have relatives, namely parents, who deal with or have dealt with panic disorder themselves or anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder. In that case, you, too, are at elevated risk for all of the above. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean you’re sentenced to experiencing any of these concerns. It simply means you are more likely to deal with them than individuals without family members dealing with these issues.

Environmental Factors

There are several environmental risk factors for developing panic disorder. Some of these include:

  • childhood abuse (sexual, physical, emotional)
  • death of a loved one
  • drug use
  • interpersonal problems
  • disease diagnosis

Risk Factors

There are some risk factors you can control and others you can’t. Here are the most common risk factors for developing panic disorder:

  • family history of mental health issues
  • smoking
  • sensitivity 
  • respiratory problems
  • anxiousness
  • other mental health concerns
  • alcohol or other substance use disorder

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Treatment Options for Panic Disorder

Having panic disorder is certainly no walk in the park. It can disrupt your everyday life and negatively impact your school, work performance, and relationships. The good news is that panic disorder is treatable. 

You need experienced help from a mental health professional to treat panic disorder effectively. Our team of extraordinary physicians at BOLD Health in Encinitas, CA, are highly trained to help you work through and overcome your symptoms using science-backed proven treatment methods.

The most common treatments for panic disorder include the following, which are all offered at BOLD Health:


 Using only evidence-based therapy techniques, you’ll meet with your assigned clinician and uncover your fears to get to the root of your anxiety issues and what may be triggering your

panic attacks. No matter your fears leading to anxiety and panic attacks, we’ll help you face them and develop healthy coping skills to overcome them. 

Medication Management

If medication could benefit you, it’ll be included in your treatment plan. Our clinicians will prescribe the appropriate medication for you based on your individual needs. We’ll also closely monitor you and make any necessary adjustments.

Intensive Outpatient Program

Our intensive outpatient program in San Diego (IOP) is a step up from traditional therapy and medication management. When enrolled, you’ll receive individual and group therapy sessions and medication management (if needed) over ten weeks. 

You’ll attend therapy sessions three days per week to get the help you need during the day while still being able to go home in the evening to your responsibilities.

outpatient treatment

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Why You Shouldn’t Let Panic Disorder Go Untreated

If living in a constant state of fear isn’t enough reason to get help for panic disorders, leaving the mental concern untreated can lead to serious consequences. Living with panic disorder severely lowers your quality of life and leads to a myriad of additional problems.

  • lowered work or school performance
  • financial issues
  • alcohol or other substance abuse
  • avoiding any social situations
  • developing phobias due to fear of having a panic attack while driving or leaving your home
  • increased suicide risk

You don’t have to live this way. There is help available. You can regain control over your life again.

Get Quality Treatment for Panic Disorder at BOLD Health

BOLD Health

Whether you’re interested in psychotherapy, medication management, or our highly-effective intensive outpatient program in San Diego, you’ll get the best care at BOLD Health. We understand the challenges that come with anxiety and panic disorder. Our physician-owned and operated facility houses a team of trained, experienced experts who can help you break the vicious panic cycle. 

Contact us to learn more about our IOP in San Diego or any of our other available panic disorder treatment options. It’s time to get your life back. And we’re ready to help.

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