Panic attacks are stressful, scary, and can be difficult to deal with. Some people get them just once in awhile, but others experience them frequently, and this could indicate a panic disorder. If you're someone who finds that you experience panic-like symptoms often, you may be exhibiting some signs of panic disorder, an anxiety disorder characterized by reoccurring, unexpected panic attacks. About two to three percent of Americans experience panic disorder in a given year, and it is twice as common in women than in men, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).
"Panic disorder is an actual mental health diagnosis as defined by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 (the bedrock of the diagnostic mental health community)," Annie Wright, LMFT of Evergreen Counseling tells Bustle. "A panic disorder is treatable, and those that are dealing with this, or believe they may be dealing with this, would be advised to seek out psychotherapy and/or talk to their primary care doctor about this."
If you feel like your life has been affected by panic attacks, you may be affected by panic disorder. Here are 11 signs that you may indicate that you have panic disorder, according to experts.
1You Have A History Of Recurrent Panic Attacks
In order to be diagnosed with panic disorder, you must experience frequent panic attacks. "One or two panic attacks does not qualify for a diagnosis of panic disorder," Nancy Irwin, Psy.D., Primary Therapist at Seasons in Malibu, tells Bustle. "Rather, this diagnosis is based on: a history of recurring panic attacks, and a lingering fear of dread of the next one." The disorder is differentiated from social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), agoraphobia, or other fears/phobias, and it is also differentiated from the symptoms listed above that are due to substance abuse or another medical condition.
2You Experience Heart Palpitations
There are a number of symptoms that constitute a panic attack, and heart palpitations is one of them. "You catch your heart pounding, racing, or generally beating at a highly accelerated rate when you're not exercising or doing an activity that would otherwise account for a high heart rate," says Wright. Of course elevated heart rate is something you should always speak to your doctor about, but if you believe it's due to panic disorder, it may be best to speak to a therapist as well.
3You Have Shortness Of Breath
Another common symptom of a panic attack is shortness of breath or a sense of being smothered. "You find it hard to take deep, even breaths and experience a restriction in your breathing capacities when there is no external reason for this," says Wright.
4You Get An Upset Stomach
An additional indicator of a panic attack is upset stomach. "You experience nausea, irritable bowels, or general discomfort in your stomach and intestinal area that cannot be better accounted for (say, with food poisoning)," says Wright. Once again, if you are experiencing these symptoms, seeking professional help can prevent them from taking over.
5You Feel Dizzy Or Lightheaded
Feeling dizzy or lightheaded is another sign of a panic attack. "You feel the room spin around or experience a general sense of lightheadedness at different times, with no known physical reason for this," says Wright.
6You Get Body Chills
Finally, when experiencing a panic attack, you might also get body chills. "You experience what might seem like hot flashes or the sudden onset of chills with no correlation to what's happening in your external environment," says Wright. There are additional symptoms to panic attacks, but according to Wright, these are the most common among her clients.
7You Live In Fear Of Panic Attacks
In addition to experiencing panic attacks, people with panic disorder also live in increased fear of getting panic attacks. "Individuals may have concern or worry about additional panic attacks or their consequences (e.g., losing control, having a heart attack)," Talkspace therapist Dr. Rachel O'Neill, LPCC tells Bustle. "They begin to fear that a future panic attack will happen and that they will experience a consequence like being embarrassed around friends and family."
8You Engage In Behaviors To Avoid Panic Attacks
"Oftentimes, someone with panic disorder will engage in behaviors to avoid having another panic attack," psychotherapist Alisa Kamis-Brinda, LCSW, LCADC tells Bustle. "This may include avoiding situations in which they think that they will have another panic attack or avoiding things like exercise that they think will trigger a panic attack."
9You Have Agoraphobia
Someone with panic disorder may also experience agoraphobia, which is fear of two or more of the following: public transportation, being in open spaces, being in enclosed spaces, standing in line or being in a crowd, and being outside of the home alone. "These situations are feared due to belief that escape might be difficult or help might not be available if they experience a panic attack," says Kamis-Brinda. "These fears often lead to avoidance of the feared situation, only being in the feared situation with a support person, or enduring the feared situation with high levels of anxiety."
10You Get Panic Attacks In Your Sleep
As if daytime panic attacks weren't bad enough, when you have panic disorder, panic attacks can also occur while you sleep. "Some individuals experience a nocturnal panic attack, in which they will awaken from a sleep state in a complete state of panic," says Dr. O'Neill.
11You Fear Health Concerns
If you frequently experience fear or concern related to health and mental health concerns, it could be a result of your panic disorder. "Individuals with panic disorder often worry about their physical health concerns and may believe that physical symptoms, like headaches, are reflective of a larger medical concern, for example, a tumor," says Dr. O'Neill.
If you experience these symptoms, you may have panic disorder. Treatment is possible, so be sure to see a doctor or therapist if you find yourself having frequent panic attacks.