Panic Disorder is when one has recurrent, unexpected panic attacks. The panic attacks cause physical symptoms, such as an increased heart rate, sweating, shaking, and shortness of breath. Individuals then worry about having future panic attacks, worry about the consequences of the panic attacks or their implications (i.e. “losing control,” having a heart attack, or going crazy), or change their behavior significantly in order to avoid future panic attacks. Individuals may also experience agoraphobia, which is the fear and subsequent avoidance of situations from which escape might be difficult or help may not be available in the event of a panic attack.
The prevalence rates for Panic Disorder are approximately 1-3.5% in community samples and as high as 10% for individuals in clinical samples. Approximately 30-50% of individuals with Panic Disorder also have agoraphobia. The age of onset for Panic Disorder varies and may begin in childhood, but often onset occurs between late adolescence and the mid-30s. Agoraphobia may develop at any time, often within the first year of having a panic attack or recurrent panic attacks.
Having a first-degree relative with Panic Disorder may increase one’s likelihood of developing Panic Disorder by up to 8 times. Twin studies suggest that there may be a genetic contribution to Panic Disorder. However, in clinical populations, approximately 50-75% of individuals with Panic disorder do not have a first-degree relative with the disorder.