This is a free pamphlet from the National Institute for Mental Health. It starts with a series of questions: Do you sometimes have sudden attacks of fear that last for several minutes? Do you feel like you are having a heart attack or can’t breathe? Do these attacks occur at unpredictable times causing you to worry about the possibility of having another one at any time?
Panic disorder is manifested by sudden attacks of fear, with associated physical symptoms such as racing heart, feeling you are having a heart attack, sweating, breathing problems, weakness or dizziness, hot or cold chills, tingly numb hands, chest pain or stomach pain. Panic disorder includes fear of places where attack have occurred, and intense worry about the next attack and feeling out of control.
Panic disorder is generally treated with psychotherapy or medications or both. Cognitive behavioral therapy is especially useful. Medications used include anti-anxiety medications which give quick relief but generally should not be used over long periods of time. Antidepressant medication is also used. There is a warning on antidepressant medication as for some people it can increase the risk of suicide.
A common descriptor for panic disorder is fear—the attack is terrifying and then you have fear of the next attack, and fear of having a possible physical condition.