Panic attacks are sudden feelings of terror that strike without warning. The age at which people are most likely to have their first panic attack is usually between 15-19 years. Panic attacks are often unexpected and unprovoked unless triggered by a phobic stimulus. Likewise, experiencing a panic attack for the first time in a particular context may lead to the development of phobia and subsequent avoidance of such contexts. When panic attacks occur regularly (either triggered by a specific stimulus or unprovoked), a person is said to be suffering from panic disorder.
A panic attack is often disabling, including symptoms such as racing heart, breathing difficulties, shaking, dizziness, sweating, sense of terror and impending death, etc. The fact that panic attacks are unpredictable means that individuals suffering from panic disorder are likely to experience severe disruption to their lives, often avoiding to leave the house altogether lest they experience an attack in an ‘unsafe’ place (that’s why panic disorder often co-occurs with agoraphobia – the fear of open spaces).
Treatment options for panic disorder are similar to those for phobias although somewhat greater emphasis is placed on drug treatments and self-relaxation techniques. Combined pharmacological and psychological interventions are probably the best treatment choice in the long run.