My name is Matthew. For many years I suffered from anxiety, panic attacks, which led to panic disorder and agoraphobia. I was able to beat these things and I now want to help others.
I believe that the best way to provide help for people suffering with panic attacks and panic attack disorder is to provide comprehensive, easy to understand, information that properly clarifies things for sufferers of anxiety and panic disorder and those suffering from agoraphobia with panic disorder.
Why is clarifying information so important?
Many people who first experience a panic attack don’t know what is happening to them. Moreover, people who experience a panic attack or panic attacks find it reassuring to understand what is happening to them biologically and psychologically. This knowledge (knowing what is happening) can be a real and initial form of help with panic attacks. So let’s get started …
As per the Mayo Clinic’s website:
A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that develops for no apparent reason and that triggers severe physical reactions. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.
You may have only one or two panic attacks in your lifetime. But if you have had several panic attacks and have spent long periods in constant fear of another attack, you may have a chronic condition called panic disorder.
Panic attacks were once dismissed as nerves or stress, but they’re now recognized as a real medical condition. Although panic attacks can significantly affect your quality of life, treatment is very effective.1
As per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., Panic Disorder involves the following:
Recurrent unexpected panic attacks and at least one of the attacks have been followed by 1 month (or more) of one (or more) of the following:
The attacks are not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (such as drug of abuse or a medication), or a general medical condition.
The attacks are not better accounted for by another mental disorder, such as social phobia (such as occurring on exposure to feared social situations), specific phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder or separation anxiety disorder
If the above criteria are met, the diagnosis is further clarified by the presence or absence of agoraphobia (such as Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia or Panic Disorder without Agoraphobia). 2
My Initial Experience
I know how scary it can be, first hand. I initially felt like I was going crazy – the thought that I might be suffering from a panic attack – a highly treatable illness – never crossed my mind.
Unfortunately I was not sure where to turn to for help with my panic attacks (of course at the time though I did not know that I was suffering from panic attacks).
When I described my symptoms to my family doctor, after having my first panic attack, he didn’t provide what I considered helpful treatment or advice. He only recommended that I see a psychologist. He did not suggest to me that I might be suffering a panic attack.
While the doctor’s referral to a psychologist led to me receiving help, it was really hard going through this period not knowing anything about what was happening to me. Knowing something about the process would have put me somewhat at ease.
Now in fairness, most medical doctors, at least general practitioners, are not trained in panic attacks, mental health issues, at least in any real depth, and are not prepared to provide any type of counseling, as their training is in only a biological model.
Furthermore most healthcare systems require physicians to work within many time constraints. Obviously this does not help the panic attack sufferer. So dealing with panic attacks in many senses is outside a general practitioner’s expertise, hence the recommendation made by my doctor was a good one, real help followed because the psychologist really had the right training and experience.
Fortunately, though, awareness of panic attacks is increasing, and now, when patients experience a panic attack, more family doctors will tell them so and can then direct them to the help they need.
Once a physical exam is completed by a medical doctor and this exam rules out any physical causes/issues, then a diagnosis of a panic attack can be made. Medical doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists can make a diagnosis of panic attacks or panic disorder. If you suspect you might be suffering from any of these conditions then see a medical professional as noted above.
Now although a medical doctor can make a diagnosis of a panic disorder and prescribe medication, more is necessary. A referral to a mental health professional with experience in panic attacks is very important. This is where the real help continues, in my opinion.
In the next page I will describe in detail the process of a panic attack.
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References (Help and Recovery from Panic Attacks / Disorder & Agoraphobia)
1.Mayo Clinic. Panic Attacks. Retrieved on September 2, 2011, from: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/panic-attacks/DS00338
2. American Psychiatric Association. “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., text revision” 2000 Washington, DC: Author.