The symptoms of a panic disorder include panic attacks that occur often and unexpectedly and anticipatory anxiety about the potential of more attacks, says Helpguide.org. Symptoms also include phobic avoidance, in which a person stays away from the sites of previous panic attacks or demonstrates other types of avoidance behavior.
At its most extreme end, phobic avoidance turns into agoraphobia, according to Helpguide.org. One example of phobic avoidance is when a person stays home unless she can venture out with a person she deems safe. Another example is bypassing places such as shopping malls where large crowds are likely. With anticipatory anxiety, a person cannot relax for fear of having panic attacks.
Many individuals with panic disorders may also experience an intense fear of dying soon or fear of the loss of control over their life and surroundings, explains WebMD. Prior to panic attacks, people with panic disorders often fear future panic attacks and may become withdrawn and isolated to avoid situations or environments that prompted previous panic attacks.
Causes of panic disorders include stressors such as graduation, marriage, death or divorce, says Helpguide.org. Medical issues, such as hyperthyroidism, stimulant use and withdrawing from medications, are connected to some cases of panic disorders. A family history of panic disorders can be passed on to children who may ultimately develop a panic disorder as a child, teenager or adult. Brain abnormalities can potentially cause a panic disorder. Drug and alcohol abuse can also contribute to the development and persistence of a panic disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one treatment, and it entails a focus on triggering and sustaining thinking patterns to make fears more realistic and easier to handle. In exposure therapy, a patient experiences the panic in a safe environment to learn better coping methods. Antidepressants and other medications may be used in severe cases, but they should never be used as the sole course of treatment.