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Understanding the Difference in Panic Attacks vs. Panic Disorder

Understanding the Difference in Panic Attacks vs. Panic Disorder

A panic attack typically comes out of nowhere and triggers an immediate and unexpected response from the body, such as sweating, trembling, and strained breathing. When panic attacks become so common that they begin interfering with daily life, an individual may be suffering from panic disorder. 

What is a panic attack?

“A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.” (citation for quotation??)

Panic attacks occur rarely in most individuals and normally subside when the stress goes away. Factors that increase the chance of getting panic attack include:

  • Other family members suffer from panic attacks or panic disorder
  • Major life stressors, like the prolonged illness or death of a loved one
  • A traumatic event, such as a car accident, mugging, or another serious incident
  • Major life changes, including marriage, divorce, or a new baby
  • Tobacco use or heavy caffeine consumption
  • History of some sort of childhood abuse

Difference Between Panic Attacks & A Panic Disorder

The major difference between panic attacks and a panic disorder is the frequency and duration of attacks, whether they happen over several years, and how they affect your quality of life. A panic attack resolves itself with little or no intervention and has no lingering aftereffects. A panic disorder, however, has serious repercussions.

What is a panic disorder?

A panic disorder is classified as an anxiety disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health defines a panic disorder as “an anxiety disorder characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress. These episodes occur “out of the blue,” not in conjunction with a known fear or stressor.”

Individuals suffering from a panic attack experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Sense of imminent doom or danger
  • Fear of death or losing control
  • Fast, pounding heart rate
  • Sweating, trembling, and/or a jittery feeling
  • Stiffness in throat and/or shortness of breath 
  • Chills and/or hot flashes
  • Stomach cramping/feeling the need to vomit
  •  Chest pain and headaches
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or faintness
  • Numbness or a tingling sensation in the body
  • Feeling detached from reality

What causes a panic disorder?

We don’t know why certain people get recurring panic attacks or develop panic disorder. The nervous system and brain play key parts in perception and how individuals handle fear and anxiety. The likelihood of having panic attacks increases if an individual has:

  • Family history. Experts believe that anxiety disorders often appear in families. An individual that has a biological relative with panic disorder may be predisposed the same way.
  • Mental health problems. Individuals with anxiety disorders, depression, or another mental illness are more susceptible to panic attacks.
  • Substance abuse problems. Drug and alcohol addiction can boost the chance of panic attacks.
  • Age and gender. Panic attacks normally appear during adolescence or early adulthood. Women are two times as likely as men to get panic disorder.

Final thoughts

Many people have an occasional panic attack, but when symptoms persist for an extended period of time and affect quality of life, it is likely that a panic disorder has developed. Thankfully, treatment exists to manage symptoms and provide relief to those who have been diagnosed with panic disorder. 

Traditional treatments, such as antidepressant medications, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes, do not always work for those who suffer from panic disorder. Ketamine intravenous infusion therapy, which exhibits a 70% success rate in clinical trials, has been shown to offer almost immediate relief (with minimal, if any, side effects) to those who suffer from severe mood disorders. 

If you suffer from panic disorder and have not responded to traditional treatments, New Life Ketamine Clinic can help you regain control of your life. Contact us today to learn more!