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Is panic disorder fatal?

Sheri Van Dijk
Psychiatry

While often people having a panic attack feel as though they're having a heart attack or otherwise dying, panic disorder is not fatal.

A panic attack is defined as having four or more physiological (e.g. racing heart, shortness of breath, dizzy/lightheadedness, nausea, shakiness, tight or heavy feeling in the chest) and cognitive symptoms (e.g. fear of dying, going crazy, passing, out, or making a fool of oneself, intense fear or panic, or the need to escape) all at the same time. Because these symptoms are uncomfortable and so many of them are physiological, people often do mistake this panic for a physical condition.

Panic Disorder is when a person develops a fear of the panic attacks themseves - essentially, they fear the fear itself. This usually results in the individual limiting herself and avoiding things she used to do out of fear of having another panic attack. Things people typically start to avoid are things they associate with their first panic attack (for example, if my first panic attack was during a meeting at work, I might find that I'm calling in sick more on the days those meetings are scheduled); or events and places where it's more difficult for them to escape (for example, they won't go to a crowded place like the mall; or they'll ensure that they sit on the end of the aisle if they go to the movies to allow them to easily leave if they become uncomfortable).

Panic disorder, and panic attacks in general, can be effectively treated with psychotherapy, and sometimes medication is also needed to help alleviate the anxiety. If you begin to have panic attacks, however, it's always a good idea to have physical problems ruled out, so see your doctor to have a full physical examination.

Although panic disorder causes intense, unexpected fear and a feeling of losing control, the condition is not fatal. However, if left untreated, the condition can cause severe problems for the person who has the disorder. It is very difficult for a person with this disorder to function normally on a daily basis because of their extreme feeling of fear.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.