What is Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder is a condition defined by recurrent panic attacks. Many people experience a single panic attack in reaction to ongoing stress or a sudden shock. Most people recover quickly but for some, the experience triggers the beginning of a series of further attacks that can go on for weeks or months.


A panic attack is a sudden rush of intense fear accompanied by intense physical symptoms including:

  • Trembling or shaking
  • Breathlessness
  • Feeling of choking
  • Tingling in the arms or legs
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling detached from yourself
  • Chest pain
  • Feeling a loss of control

Panic attacks are often so severe that those experiencing them think they are having a heart attack and that their lives are in danger. In actual fact panic attacks are totally unrelated to heart attacks and pose no risk to physical health at all.

Nevertheless, regular panic attacks can cause significant distress and disruption to a person’s quality of life. People with panic disorder often live in fear of the next attack coming and will avoid places or situations that might trigger an attack.

Treating Panic Disorder involves training a person to safely experience the situations and physical changes that would normally trigger a panic attack. Part of this requires the person to learn new thinking patterns and ways of acting in response to anxiety, while also practising facing situations that fear them until they no longer trigger panic.