Living Well Psychology

Living Well

What is panic disorder?

Panic disorder is the term used to describe when panic attacks are recurrent and disabling. Panic disorder can be characterised by:

  • The presence of recurring and unexpected (‘out of the blue’) panic attacks.
  • Worrying for at least a month after having a panic attack that you will have another one.
  • Worrying about the implications or consequences of a panic attack (such as thinking that the panic attack is a sign of an undiagnosed medical problem). For example, some people have repeated medical tests due to these worries and, despite reassurance, still have fears of being unwell.
  • Significant changes in behaviour that relate to the panic attacks (such as avoiding activities like exercise because it increases the heart rate).

During a panic attack, an individual is suddenly overwhelmed by the physical sensations described above. Panic attacks reach a peak within about 10 minutes and usually last for up to half an hour, leaving the person feeling tired or exhausted. They can occur several times a day or may happen only once every few years. They can even occur while people are asleep, waking them up during the attack. Many people experience a panic attack once or twice in their lives; this is common and is not panic disorder.

For more information about panic disorder, visit the beyondblue website.