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Panic Disorder - Definition, Symptoms & Causes

Panic Disorder is characterised by acute and distressing panic attacks. People who experience panic attacks commonly think they are going to die or lose control. Panic attacks can occur with or without an apparent cause. They can involve a fear of future panic attacks and behaviour changes to avoid them. In the UK, panic affects 7 in every 1000 men and 7 in every 1000 women (ONS).


Panic attacks are a severe episodic manifestation of anxiety. The symptoms of a panic attack include apprehension, tension and physical symptoms such as a choking sensation, hyperventilation, sweating, and palpitations. A panic attack generally reaches a peak of intensity within 10 minutes before subsiding within 30 minutes. Panic attacks may occur during sleep (nocturnal panic attacks), or without psychological symptoms (non-fearful panic attacks).


The causes of panic attacks include catastrophic thinking, fears of being abandoned or trapped, misinterpreting bodily sensations, phobias, and stress. The causes of panic disorder include bereavement, divorce, and illness. Most people with panic disorder become agoraphobic.

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Updated 18 June 2013