For many centuries people were being attacked by a phenomenon, which was only recently examined and called ‘Panic Disorder’. Until the XX century people were trying to fight the disease, which they could not understand. In 1980 a modern medicine has discovered not only the reason for this illness, but also the way it can be treated and cured. Panic disorder takes many forms, and this is the reason for its complexity.
This research paper is going to cover all the aspects concerning panic disorder and the role of the modern medicine in this matter. It is going to illustrate how the understanding of the illness has changed with a time and what major advantages these changes have brought.
The aim of the following research paper is to examine one of the anxiety disorders, panic disorder. The main questions of this research paper are what the symptoms of a panic disorder are, how it is different from the common feeling of the stress and fear, what causes the illness, what effective treatment can be applied to the patients who suffer from it, and how opinions of different professionals differ in this matter.
This paper is a significant contribution to the field of psychiatric deviations. Since a panic disorder is a comparatively new area in this field, there is still not much information available concerning this topic. The following research paper provides with information, which covers all the important issues in this area, in a structured and clear way.
History of the panic disorder
In order to better understand the term ‘panic disorder’ it is necessary to go back to the ancient times and to see, where the word ‘panic’ comes from.
According to Rachman & De Silva (2004):
“The term ‘panic’ is derived from the name of the Greek god Pan. According to Greek mythology, the cloven-footed, dwarfish Pan was a lonely and moody god with an impish sense of humor who played practical jokes on humans. If a wanderer to pass the cave where he was hiding, Pan would jump out with a shrill and terrifying scream. The acute terror felt by the wanderers who experienced this treatment came to be called ‘panic’” (p.1).
Later, this word was applied to the sudden feeling of fear and confusion. Even though people were aware of this phenomenon, which started happening more often and with more people, there was no proper and effective treatment for it until 1980. “Some treatments that were used previously were various herbs and balms (in the medieval/ ancient times), bathing in extremely cold rivers and streams, hydropaths (applying extreme temperatures to the body), health spas, bloodletting (with the use of leeches)” (HealthyPlace.com, 2008).
People did not fully understand what this feeling was, or why it was happening back then. There were no official records of such incidents, and only several messages can be found now about the people, who were suffering from panic disorder before XX century. Apart from the delusions concerning the treatment of the illness, there was also a myth that a panic disorder was exclusively widespread among women (HealthyPlace.com, 2008).
In 1980 anxiety disorders were officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (HealthyPlace.com, 2008). Only then medical professionals started linking the disease with several other people’s aberrations. After a number of studies they found out that there can be many causes to the illness and many of its developing processes.
What is a Panic Disorder?
“Panic disorder is different from the normal fear and anxiety reactions to stressful events in our lives” (Chakraburtty, 2009). In case a person becomes a victim of a panic disorder, he or she experiences a feeling of a fear, which lasts for ten to twenty minutes. The feeling of fear is then followed by the physical pain in different parts of the body (mostly in the chest), weakness, dizziness, shortage of air, or rapid pulse (National Institute of Mental Health, 2009). Usually there is nothing that predicts an attack. In most of the cases it happens unexpectedly and has no explanation. Because of its sudden appearance, people, who are being attacked by the panic, feel as if they are losing their mind or are going to die.
There is a deeper explanation of a panic disorder. According to Chew (2001): “When you are faced with more stress than you know how to deal with, your body becomes aroused because it is being bombarded with anxiety producing stimuli”. This means that whenever a person feels he or she is in danger, the brain sends a signal to a body to force more blood into it in order to provide it with more strength. The reaction of a body to this signal is an accelerated heart beats, tightened muscles, increased breathing, weakness, etc. In other words, body experiences distress and pain because of the pressure and an increased tension.
According to Rachman & De Silva (2004): “[…] most people experience occasional episodes of panic during their lives which are not necessarily a sign of a psychological disorder” (p.5).
It might seem that there is no way to differentiate a usual feeling of the stress or fear from an attack of panic. However, there is one major difference between them. A common feeling of fear or stress usually lasts for a long period of time, e.g. hours, days, weeks, etc. A panic attack, on the other hand, happens within a very short period of time. It lasts for approximately only ten minutes and is completely gone by the time a person receives a medical aid.
Many people have a panic attack only once in their lives, and it does not have any effect on their future life. However, in many cases this feeling repeats, and forces people to change their usual environment and habits. “Over time, a person with panic disorder develops a constant fear of having another panic attack, which can affect daily functioning and general quality of life” (Chakraburtty, 2009). People, who have experienced an attack, are trying to avoid places, where it has happened to them, because they are afraid it will repeat there.
A panic disorder can even have more serious consequences with time. In case a disease is not cured and becomes more frequent, it can grow into phobia or agoraphobia. According to Lee (1997): “[…] people with agoraphobia fear more than just public or open locations; they have a fear of grocery stores, malls, other people’s houses, church, concert halls, school, and sports arenas-just about everyplace except the safety of their own house”. In addition to this, “panic disorder is often accompanied by other serious problems, such as depression, drug abuse, or alcoholism” (National Institute of Mental Health, 2009).
Symptoms of the panic disorder
According to Katerndahl (1997), a panic disorder can be recognized in case a person gets four or more from the following feelings within a time period of approximately ten minutes.
Below is the list of the symptoms:
- Pounding heart or accelerated heart beats
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling of choking
- Pain in the chest and discomfort
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- Feeling of unreality or detachment from oneself
- Fear of losing control or going crazy
- Fear of dying
- Hot flushes
As was mentioned above, the distinctive feature of a panic disorder is its sudden appearance and brief duration. A combination of four or more feelings happens abruptly, and there is no chance to predict it. A panic attack can occur even during the sleep.
In addition to the above mentioned indicators to a panic disorder, there is one more symptom, which lasts much longer than others do and is considered to be the most important and dangerous among them. The symptom is a person’s fear of having another attack of a panic. It can lead to the changes in the person’s lifestyle or the places he or she visits; work, friends, theatres, shopping malls, etc. “The fear of these attacks can cause the person to avoid places and situations where an attack has occurred or where they believe an attack may occur” (Chakraburtty, 2009).
According to Chakraburtty (2009), “Although the exact cause of panic disorder is not fully understood, studies have shown that a combination of factors, including biological and environmental, may be involved”. For example, one of such factors is that a panic disorder is usually inherited. This means that the illness initially comes from the members of a family. It is common that a panic disorder is widespread among and affects certain family’s members.
Another factor, which can cause an illness, is an abnormality in the brain. People, who suffer from the problems in their certain parts of the brain, are disposed to becoming the victims of a panic disorder. The illness can also be caused by the intense usage of drugs or alcohol. The latter factors have a tendency to trigger the disorder, since their usage has a negative effect on the brain and, consequently, on the person’s organism as a whole.
The illness can also have its roots in the person’s past. In case a person has experienced any stressful situations in his or her childhood or adulthood, these situations can reveal themselves in the future period of his or her life. According to Rachman & De Silva (2004), “Post-traumatic stress disorder is classified as a person having intense fears that arise and persist after an unusually distressing experience such as a natural disaster, an accident or a violent attack”.
However, panic attacks sometimes happen without any reason. Healthy and mentally strong people are falling victims to the violent process of being attacked by the panic. The attack can happen only once (and, therefore, will not mean that a person suffers from a panic disorder) or can become frequent and unhealthy. In the latter case a person must receive a medical help before it grows into more serious and dangerous syndrome.
Treatment of a Panic Disorder
“People who have full-blown, repeated panic attacks can become very disabled by their condition and should seek treatment before they start to avoid places or situations where panic attacks have occurred” (National Institute of Mental Health, 2009). It is very important to report the attacks, which happen repeatedly for longer than a month. The problem with the treatment of a panic disorder is that, despite of the existing effective treatments, there are still patients, who do not receive it. This happens due to either their own reluctance to visit hospitals or an inability of physicians to recognize the illness. According to National institute of Mental Health (2009), “[…] people with panic disorder may sometimes go from doctor to doctor for years and visit the emergency room repeatedly before someone correctly diagnoses their condition”.
However, an early treatment can prevent the development of an illness into more serious and dangerous forms. Whenever panic attacks continue with all the symptoms, which are typical for the disorder, a person must go to the physician, who will use several tests in order to examine a person’s previous medical history and the possible aberration caused by the attacks. In the beginning a physician will also look for any physical illness, which could serve as a cause for an attack. If no such illness is found, a patient is sent to a psychiatrist or psychologist. These professionals concentrate specifically on the mental illnesses. “Psychiatrists and psychologists use specially designed interview and assessment tools to evaluate a person for panic disorder” (Chakraburtty, 2009).
After a close examination of a person’s problem, a doctor makes conclusions concerning his or her mental condition. Depending on the conclusion, an appropriate treatment is prescribed to the patient. According to Chakraburtty (2009), there are several treatments, which can be applied separately or in combination to a person, who suffers from a panic disorder.
These therapies are:
- Psychotherapy. This technique is used in order for a patient to be able to talk about the illness to the professional and to understand it. The psychologist or psychiatrist help person to find the ways of dealing with his or her problems.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy. Through applying this method a person learns to recognize and change a certain behavior, which previously has led to the panic attacks or any other uncomfortable feelings. This technique helps to identify the factors, which trigger the disorder.
- Medication. Since panic disorder is very often connected to other mental illnesses, such as, for example, depression, the list of medications includes anti-depressant drugs and anti-anxiety medications. The medications, which control the heartbeats, sometimes are also prescribed.
Relaxation techniques. These exercises can be used even after the treatment or during the future attacks.
Attacks might stop right after the treatment. However, sometimes it is necessary to continue the treatment or to go through it twice in order to ensure that it will not happen again in the near future. According to Chakraburtty (2009), “Some people will respond well to treatment only to experience panic attacks later in life”. In order for the attacks not to repeat, it is better to go through all the procedures several times and to continue visiting a doctor for an examination.
There are two main positions and opinions about the panic disorder. “Most North American psychiatrists consider the panic attack to be the central feature of the disorder “ (Overcominganxiety.org). This opinion claims that panic attacks are separate biological event and is not similar to other anxiety forms. This opinion also views panic attacks, which repeat over time, as an exclusive feature of panic disorder. It also claims that agoraphobia, which results in a person’s reluctance to leave the house, can only be a consequence of a panic attack and does not exist on its own.
Many European psychiatrists, on the other hand, believe that panic attacks can occur once in a person’s lifetime and not to repeat itself again. They claim that a single panic attack does not mean that a person suffers from a panic disorder and, consequently, does not have to go through the same treatment. They believe that a single panic attack can be caused by a number of other factors, such as depression, alcohol abuse, etc. The European view on panic disorder is that a person, who suffers from it, needs to have certain temperamental features in order for it to appear. They also claim that agoraphobia can be developed without any previous panic attacks. (Overcominganxiety.org)
Panic disorder is an important issue in our days which affects many people around the world. Even though this illness became a widespread problem recently, many physiologists fail to recognize and cure it immediately. In many cases, people experience these attacks for many years before they receive a medical aid. The major difficulty in recognizing panic disorder is that its symptoms are somewhat similar to those of a regular stress or fear. However, there are features, which differentiate these two conditions.
This paper has given a brief, however, a full overview of a panic disorder and its effects on the people. It has discussed such important areas of the illness as its history, symptoms, causes, treatments, and opinions of different professionals. Each section demands a particular attention, since it assists in understanding an illness better, knowing how to recognize it and not to confuse with other illnesses. It also gives a picture of how to stop the disorder on its early stages and not to let it develop into a more serious stage. Finally, the paper illustrates the negative effect of a panic disorder and the necessity to quickly react to its initial development.
The present research paper will assist in gaining a better understanding of the panic disorder area. Despite of the fact that there are still aspects, which are not fully identified or understood by the psychiatrists and other medical professionals, the further research can help to develop this topic and to widen the area of anxiety disorders.
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