Panic Disorder--Not "All in the Mind"
Panic attacks are commonly misunderstood and often made light of, but anyone who has actually experienced one knows they are no laughing matter. Fear is a normal response when one's life is in danger. In a panic attack, the sufferer experiences physical symptoms associated with extreme fear. Although the attack itself may last only a few minutes, the physical symptoms, such as a rapid heartbeat or a sensation of suffocation or choking, are severe enough to be highly disorienting, even after they have subsided. While many people experience intense anxiety in response to a variety of circumstances, people with panic disorder experience their attacks "out of the blue," which is to say, they are not directly connected with a specific traumatic event or situation. After their initial attack, panic disorder sufferers generally develop a pattern of avoidance to deal with situations they come to regard as threatening. For example, someone who has experienced an initial, unprovoked panic attack while shopping may associate this activity with the attack and avoid going shopping. This sort of phobic avoidance is seen in a more extreme form called agoraphobia, which is generally defined as a fear of public places that results in the sufferer's not leaving the home. Experts interpret this as a fear of being in a place or situation from which escape might be difficult or embarras sing, or of suffering a panic attack in public with no help or avenue of retreat possible. As many as 60% of people with panic disorder report agoraphobia among their symptoms Researchers now believe that in panic disorder the body's warning system for danger is abnormally sensitive and can be set off by situations not inherently dangerous. The result is inappropriate triggering of the "flight or fight response" and a full-scale panic attack. Evidence suggests that people who suffer from panic disorder have a chemical imbalance in the brain involving a neurotransmitter called serotonin. About the Author:
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