What Are the Symptoms of Panic Disorder?

Panic Attacks

Recurring panic attacks are the hallmark features of panic disorder. The symptoms of panic attacks are sudden and intense feelings of terror, fear or apprehension, without the presence of actual danger. The symptoms of a panic attack usually happen suddenly, peak within 10 minutes and then subside. However, some attacks may last longer or may occur in succession, making it difficult to determine when one attack ends and another begins.

According to the DSM-IV-TR, a panic attack is characterized by four or more of the following symptoms:

  1. palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  2. sweating
  3. trembling or shaking
  4. sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  5. feeling of choking
  6. chest pain or discomfort
  7. nausea or abdominal distress
  8. feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
  9. feelings of unreality (derealization) or being detached from oneself (depersonalization)
  10. fear of losing control or going crazy
  11. fear of dying
  12. numbness or tingling sensations (paresthesias)
  13. chills or hot flushes

The presence of fewer than four of the above symptoms may be considered a limited-symptom panic attack. In order for a diagnosis of panic disorder to be made, recurring, spontaneous panic attacks must be present.

Fear, Worry and Avoidance

The symptoms of a panic attack are usually so intense they are often described by sufferers as the worst experience of their lives.

After having a panic attack, the individual may continue to experience extreme anxiety for several hours. More often than not, the panic episode causes continuous worry about having another attack. It is not unusual to be become so consumed with worry and fear that behavioral changes occur with the hope of avoiding another attack.

This may lead to the development of agoraphobia, which complicates recovery and limits one’s ability to function in usual daily activities.

The Importance of Getting Treatment

The symptoms of agoraphobia can be frightening and potentially disabling. But, it is a treatable disorder, and most people will find significant relief with therapeutic intervention. The sooner treatment begins after the onset of panic disorder, the more quickly symptoms will lessen or disappear. However, even those with long-term symptoms generally experience improvement with treatment, and most can resume many of the activities they once enjoyed.

Because panic disorder can mimic or coexist with many other medical or psychological disorders, it is important that other conditions be ruled out. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing the symptoms of panic disorder.


American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR) 2000 Washington, DC.

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