Panic Disorder Signs, Symptoms and Effects

Understanding the signs, symptoms, and effects of panic disorder is an important step toward getting help for yourself or your loved one. Haverhill Pavilion Behavioral Health Hospital in Haverhill, Massachusetts, is a source of accurate information, reliable guidance, and comprehensive solutions for adults and older adults who have been struggling with panic disorder.

Understanding Panic Disorder

Learn about panic disorder

Panic disorder is a distressing condition that is characterized by abrupt surges of overwhelming fear and considerable physical discomfort. These experiences are referred to as panic attacks. People who have multiple unexpected panic attacks may be diagnosed with panic disorder.

The episodes that are symptomatic of panic disorder are usually brief. During a typical panic attack, symptoms will reach peak intensity within a few minutes, and then will begin to subside. However, the severity of these symptoms, coupled with the fear that they can occur at any time, can have a profound negative effect on a person’s life.

The symptoms of a panic attack can make a person feel as though they are having a heart attack or being choked. The individual may also feel that they are in danger of losing consciousness. Thus, in addition to the extreme emotional distress that these episodes can cause, people who have panic disorder may also be at risk for physical harm. For example, if a panic attack occurs while a person is driving an automobile, operating machinery, or engaged in a similar activity, the results can be disastrous.

Individuals who have panic disorder live with the fear that they could experience a panic attack at any time, with no apparent warning or cause. This can be a source of continuous emotional strain, and it can prompt people to alter their behavioral patterns or otherwise make self-defeating lifestyle changes in an attempt to avoid or minimize the damage of future panic attacks.

Signs & Symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of panic disorder

Panic disorder is associated with a variety of distressing signs and symptoms. These experiences can vary from person to person in terms of both onset and severity. The following are among the most common signs and symptoms of panic disorder:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Episodes of uncontrolled crying or screaming
  • Changing your behaviors in order to avoid events or situations that you believe may trigger a panic attack

Physical symptoms:

  • Racing heart rate
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sensation of being choked
  • Discomfort in the chest
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Impaired balance
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes
  • Numbness or tingling in hands or feet

Mental symptoms:

  • Depersonalization (the sensation that you are becoming detached from your mind and body)
  • Derealization (the sensation that you are becoming detached from your environment)
  • Pervasive fear that you are losing control
  • Overwhelming fear of death or dying

Short-Term Effects

Possible short-term effects of panic disorder

Panic disorder can have a significant negative impact on your life. In the immediate aftermath of the onset of your symptoms, you may begin to experience the following short-term effects of panic disorder:

  • Diminished quality of relationships with family members, friends, peers, or colleagues
  • Frequently missing school or work
  • Failing to perform to expectation in school or at work
  • Physical health problems
  • Abusing alcohol or other drugs
  • Onset of co-occurring disorders
  • Low self-confidence

You should never dismiss or disregard the short-term effects of panic disorder. Describing these effects as short-term is not meant to imply that they are not serious or cannot cause significant harm.

Anyone who experiences any short-term effects of panic disorder should seek professional care.

With the right help, you can reduce your risk for future harm and begin to heal from any damage that has already occurred.

Long-Term Effects

Potential long-term effects of panic disorder

In the absence of proper professional care, continuing to struggle with panic disorder can expose you to several distressing long-term effects, such as the following:

  • Ruined relationships
  • Withdrawal and isolation
  • Academic failure
  • Job loss
  • Unemployment
  • Financial distress
  • Worsening symptoms of co-occurring disorders
  • Worsening physical health issues
  • Addiction
  • Pervasive sense of hopelessness or helplessness

It is not an exaggeration to note that the long-term effects of panic disorder can be devastating. As with the short-term effects listed in the previous section, the long-term effects of panic disorder can have a profound negative impact on your physical, emotional, and socioeconomic well-being. But when you get proper care, you can prepare yourself for a much healthier and more satisfying future.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Common co-occurring disorders among people who have panic disorder

If you have panic disorder, you may have an increased risk for certain co-occurring disorders, including the following:

  • Other anxiety disorders (especially agoraphobia)
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Substance use disorders

Experts have not established a definitive cause-effect relationship between panic disorder and these co-occurring disorders.

Some people first begin to struggle with the signs and symptoms of panic disorder, and then develop one of the co-occurring disorders listed above. For example, a person may abuse alcohol or another drug in a misguided attempt to self-medicate the symptoms of panic disorder, which can lead to the development of a substance use disorder (which is the clinical term for addiction).

In other cases, people may experience one of these co-occurring disorders prior to the onset of panic disorder, or they may develop panic disorder without ever dealing with a co-occurring disorder.

Co-occurring disorders can complicate your recovery from panic disorder. This is one of the many reasons why it’s so important to get help for panic disorder from a provider who can identify and address any co-occurring disorders that you may also be experiencing.