We’ve all felt it occasionally – irrational, sudden fear, often without a recognizable cause, which can instantly become overwhelming. For most people, intense fear and apprehension can happen due to stressful situations or events, but these feelings typically disappear on their own without any intervention. Some people, however, have these fears quite often to the point it begins disrupting their daily life – and may, in fact, be a sign of panic disorder.
If you experience repeated and unforeseen panic attacks, you could have panic disorder. In between these attacks, it’s not unusual to worry terribly about when and where the next attack may strike. Some people even end up as prisoners in their own homes, afraid to go about their lives or interact with others. Fortunately, the symptoms can be treated.
Know the Symptoms
Generally, panic disorder is characterized by four or more panic attacks, followed by an intense fear of having another one. Symptoms of a panic attack or disorder may include:
- Pounding heart, chest pain, or other symptoms which feel like a heart attack
- Shortness of breath
- A choking feeling
- Nausea or stomach pain
- Feeling disconnected from oneself
- Fear of losing control
- Fear of dying or losing your mind
- You have numbness, chills, or hot flashes
Here’s What Can Worsen Panic Disorder
Panic disorder is a kind of anxiety disorder, and, like so many other mental health conditions, it can be exacerbated or made worse when you least expect it. Many people with panic attacks or a more serious disorder try and avoid situations, people, or places they believe may act as triggers, but what makes panic disorder worse? Here are just a few examples.
- Health issues, including hormone levels and thyroid problems. Research by the U.S. National Institutes of Health has uncovered a correlation between panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and other conditions with thyroid problems and hormonal imbalances.
- Certain medicine or weight loss supplements. Scientists have discovered a link in the brain between anxiety, weight loss, and the role that weight loss supplements may play.
- Too much caffeine. Anxiety and fear create a natural fight or flight response, and high levels of caffeine in soda, coffee, or other beverages can mimic those feelings, possibly triggering a panic attack.
- Alcohol. A study by the U.S. National Library of Medicine reports finding “an increase in anxiety and agoraphobia in alcoholic patients.”
- Recreational drugs like marijuana. THC, the chief psychoactive compound found in cannabis, appears to increase anxiety at higher doses, according to the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute and the University of Washington.
- Skipping meals or not eating healthily are believed to worsen anxiety and panic in some people. To get around that, experts recommend eating a protein-rich breakfast, eating complex carbohydrates, and following other healthy eating tips.
- Lack of physical activity can worsen anxiety and cause other mental health problems, according to experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
- Negative thoughts about yourself, others, or the world around you
- You have financial problems, but there may be ways to deal with them before they get out of hand and lead to anxiety or panic.
- Get-togethers or social events
- Relationship issues, including a failed marriage or family squabbles
- Stress is a well-known trigger for physical and mental health problems, including anxiety and panic.
- A traumatic event
- Validating what you’re afraid of, even if your fears are irrational or without cause.
- Peer pressure or spending too much time with negative people.
If you have panic disorder, you’re not alone. The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health estimates that it affects almost 3% of adults in America and about 2.3% of adolescents. Its symptoms can often be treated with treatments like ketamine once you’ve seen a healthcare provider for diagnosis.
Diagnosis & Treatment
There is no single test to diagnose panic disorder. Still, your healthcare provider will likely start with a thorough medical examination which may include blood tests and other diagnostic procedures to see if a health problem is causing your symptoms. An underlying cause may be treatable, but if none is found, you may be referred to a mental health specialist for a psychological screening. A mental health examination will investigate your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as panic triggers; you may also be asked about your personal and family history of mental illness.
If you’re diagnosed with panic disorder, your healthcare provider may recommend different treatment options. Anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications and psychotherapy is an option. Ketamine is also known to relieve symptoms of panic disorder and may help.