Panic attacks can occur in anyone. Chemical or hormonal imbalances, drugs or alcohol, stress, or other situational events can cause panic attacks, which are often mistaken for heart attacks, heart disease, or respiratory problems.
The main feature of a Panic Disorder is the presence of recurrent, unexpected panic attacks that are characterized by a discrete period of intense fear or discomfort.1 The attack has a sudden onset and builds to a rapid peak of typically ten minutes or less and is accompanied by a sense of imminent danger or impending doom and an urge to escape.1 Panic attacks vary in the intensity and frequency depending on the person, the person could have them for a whole week and then not have another for a length of time and could be incredibly intense. Those who have panic attacks often believe they have a medical condition or fear they are going crazy, losing control, or weakening emotionally. There is a distinction made between Panic Disorder with agoraphobia and Panic Disorder without agoraphobia. Please see our page about Agoraphobia to learn more, click here.
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Panic Disorder and Smoking
In the United States population, 3.4% are diagnosed with panic disorder, among those diagnosed, 35.9% currently smoke. Having a panic attack is often very terrifying and very uncomfortable for the individual. These overwhelming sensations can bring about a need for the person to find a way to cope with disorder. Some researchers have suggested this may be why people diagnosed with panic disorder also smoke. Among individuals reporting a history of panic attacks, daily and lifetime smoking was roughly three times more prevalent than those without a history of panic disorder.3 Cigarette use is frequently cited as having a calming effect, but could also increase breathing- related such as shortness of breath or smothering, which is also a symptom of a panic attack.3 This is a problem because while smoking may be calming the person down, it could increase the likelihood of having another panic attack made worse by difficulty in breathing. One research study suggests that cigarette use, in the absence of nicotine dependence, is associated with increased likelihood of developing panic disorder.4 If this is the case, it is necessary for someone with this disorder to seek help for both the panic attacks and smoking cessation because smoking can contribute and worsen the symptoms of a panic attack.
1 American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author
2 A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia. (2011, April 4). Panic Disorder. PubMed. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001922/
3 Mathew, A. R., Norton, P. J., Zvolensky, M. J., Buckner, J. D., & Smits, J. J. (2011). Smoking behavior and alcohol consumption in individuals with panic attacks. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 25(1), 61-70.
4 Goodwin, R. D., Zvolensky, M.J., Keyes, K.M. (2008). Nicotine dependence and mental disorders among adults in the USA: evaluating the role of the mode of administration. Psychological Medicine, 38, pp 1277-1286