Panic attacks consist of a period of intense fear or discomfort during which at least four of the following symptoms develop abruptly and peak within 10 minutes: palpitations, sweating, trembling or shaking, sensations of shortness of breath, feeling of choking, chest pain or discomfort, nausea or abdominal distress, feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded or faint, feelings of unreality or being detached from oneself, fear of losing control or going crazy, fearing of dying, numbness or tingling sensations, chills or hot flashes. Panic attacks may occur within the context of another anxiety. For example, someone with social anxiety disorder may experience a panic attack before or during an oral presentation. Panic disorder is specifically characterized by sudden, unexpected panic attacks followed by at least one month of persistent concern about having another attack. Given the strong physiological component of panic disorder, many people who suffer from panic disorder often visit emergency rooms or doctors, believing that they have a serious life-threatening illness.
Some people experience panic disorder with agoraphobia. Agoraphobia (technically defined as fear of open spaces) refers to a morbid fear of having a panic attack or panic-like symptoms in situations in which help would not be available or escape would be difficult or embarrassing. Those who suffer from agoraphobia typically avoid public places or places where they have experienced a panic attack. They may become restricted to their home or fixed routes or territories in which they feel safe. Approximately one in three people with panic disorder develops agoraphobia. Agoraphobia does not tend to develop until age 18 or older.
Panic disorder affects approximately 4% of adolescents, whereas panic attacks are relatively common among adolescents (35-65%). On average, one’s first panic attack occurs between the ages of 15 and 19. Panic disorder is extremely rare in prepubertal children. Panic disorder is more common in females than males. Agoraphobia occurs in 2.4% of youth between the ages of 13 and 18 and is more common in females.
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