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Panic Disorder Fact Sheet

Panic Disorder Facts

Panic disorder is one of the most treatable of all mental illnesses. Yet, it probably is the mental illness most apt to be unrecognized, incorrectly diagnosed and inappropriately treated. People with panic disorder experience unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by a set of unexplained physical symptoms, such as chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress. Before getting the help they need, many panic disorder sufferers visit as many as 10 physicians and undergo extensive, costly and unnecessary. medical procedures.

Panic disorder is more common than you might think ...

  • More than 3 million Americans will have panic disorder in their lifetime.
  • Approximately 1 million people have panic disorder at any given time.
  • Women are twice as likely as men to develop panic disorder.
  • Panic disorder typically strikes in young adulthood, with the median age of onset occurring at 24 years.
Panic disorder is a serious and debilitating mental illness ...
  • People with panic disorder often fear that they are dying or losing control.

  • One-third of panic disorder sufferers begin to avoid situations where they fear an attack may occur or where help is not available, a condition known as agoraphobia.

  • About 50 percent of people with panic disorder will have an episode of clinical depression at some time in their lives.

  • People who have panic disorder often turn to alcohol and illicit drugs in an attempt to alleviate the painful mental and physical symptoms of their condition. About 30 percent "self-medicate" with alcohol and 17 percent use drugs, such as cocaine and marijuana.
Panic disorder ... "It's real. It's treatable."
  • People afflicted with panic disorder may experience problems in family, work and social interactions.

  • An alarming 20 percent of people with panic disorder attempt suicide, according to one research report.
Treatment is available and it works ...
  • Effective treatments for panic disorder include medications and a ,type of psychotherapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy.

  • People seeking treatment for panic disorder can get medication therapy from a psychiatrist or primary care physician, and cognitive-behavioral therapy from mental health professionals who are trained in this treatment method.

  • Appropriate treatment by an experienced professional reduces or completely prevents panic attacks in 70 to 90 percent of people with panic disorder.

  • With proper treatment, most patients show significant progress in a couple of months.

1. Regier, D.A., Robins, L.N., The NIMH Epidemiologic Catchment Area Study. New York: The Free Press, 1991.

2. Weissman, M.M., et al., Suicidal Ideation and Suicide Attempts in Panic Disorder and Attacks. New England Journal of Medicine, 321(18): 1209-1214, 1989.

Information provided by NIMH.