Could I Have Panic Disorder?

 Question: I recently experienced what I believe to be a panic attack. Does this mean that I have panic disorder? 

Answer: Having a panic attack does not necessarily indicate that you have panic disorder. Let me explain why. 

Related Conditions

It is true that panic attacks are the main symptom of panic disorder. However, these attacks could be indicative of a entirely different anxiety disorder or other condition.

In fact, panic attacks can actually be associated with a variety of mental health conditions. Your panic attack may have been caused by a different mental health disorder, such as a specific phobia, agoraphobia, depression, post-truamtic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), an eating disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and other conditions listed in the DSM 5. 

One of the main indications that your panic attacks are linked to panic disorder is that they occur suddenly, without any warning or trigger. In fact, many panic disorder sufferers experience these attacks completely out-of-the-blue, making him or her think that it could actually be a medical emergency.

Panic attacks that occur due to a specific environmental cue or trigger are typically due to s different mental health condition. So for example, if you have a panic attack when you are faced with a certain fear, than this may be a symptom of a specific phobia.

If you seem to have panic attacks when you are in open spaces or crowds, it may be a sign that you have agoraphobia. Last, panic attacks that happen when a person is reminded of a past trauma may be related to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Panic attacks are not always a sign of a mental health condition.

These attacks may actually be the result of an underlying medical health condition. Some common medical issues connected to panic attacks include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastroesophageal reflux disease, or hypothyroidism. 

Panic Attack Symptoms

​It is also possible that you experienced anxiety-related symptoms, but not an actual panic attack. Anxiety is often felt through a combination of physical and mental symptoms, including fear, worry, unsteadiness, shakiness, and heart palpitations, and sweating. Panic attacks share many of the same symptoms of anxiety, however these are often more intense, reaching a peak within 10 minutes before gradually subsiding. After a panic attack dissipates, the person may still feel highly anxious for quite some time. Some of the most common symptoms of panic attacks include: 

Getting the Right Diagnosis

If you believe that you could have panic disorder or are concerned that another condition is causing your panic attacks, then you should seek out professional help. The first step to finding relief from these attacks is to schedule an appointment with your doctor. He or she will want to discuss your symptoms, including how long they have been occurring, how often they occur, how they are experienced, what helps them get under control, and what have you been doing to manage your symptoms. Your doctor will also take down information about your medical history to rule out any other mental health or medical condition. 

Once you have been diagnosed with panic disorder, your doctor will want to get you started on a treatment plan. This plan will include the treatment options you have chosen to help manage your symptoms. Your doctor may discuss several options, such as medications for panic disorder or psychotherapy, as a means to coping with panic. He or she may also make referrals to mental health specialist who treat panic disorder. 

Continue Reading