People who suffer from panic attacks often describe such experiences as the most frightening events of their lives. During a panic attacks a person may experience fears of dying, “going crazy”, experiencing a heart attack, or losing control. Those feelings occur suddenly and are accompanied by uncomfortable physical sensations, such as difficulty breathing, feeling faint, nausea, sweating, chest pain, dizziness, trembling, tingling sensations, and heart palpitations. These feelings may provoke a strong urge to escape or flee the place where the attack began (a consequence of the “fight or flight” response).
Some people with panic disorder also develop Agoraphobia which is the fear of being in places or situations that may be difficult or embarrassing to escape. People with agoraphobia often avoid public places, especially where large crowds gather. Commonly feared places and situations are sporting events, elevators, lines, bridges, public transportation, driving, supermarkets, and shopping malls. Such avoidance may lead to a limited and constricted life, depression and despair.
Fortunately, most people with panic disorder respond well to treatment. Research has shown that most individuals show substantial progress in less than 20 sessions of CBT with or without medications. Treatment for panic disorder often utilizes exposure therapy, which focuses on confronting the fears and beliefs that are associated with it. Patients are encouraged to engage in activities that were avoided. The progress that is accomplished in treatment is often maintained long after treatment is completed.