Often the symptoms of this disorder come on rapidly and without an identifiable stressor. The individual may have had periods of high anxiety in the past, or may have been involved in a recent stressful situation. The underlying causes, however, are typically subtle.
Panic Disorder is characterized by sudden attacks of intense fear or anxiety, usually associated with numerous physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, rapid breathing or shortness of breath, blurred vision, dizziness, and racing thoughts. Often these symptoms are thought to be a heart attack by the individual, and many cases are diagnosed in hospital emergency rooms.
Although medication can be useful, psychotherapy (especially behavioral and cognitive/behavioral approaches have proved quite successful). The key to treatment is accepting the panic attacks as psychological rather than physical (once these causes have been ruled out by a physician), practicing relaxation exercises, and working through the underlying issues.
Prognosis for this disorder is very good if the above conditions are met. Left untreated, however, symptoms can worsen and Agoraphobia can develop. In these cases, the individual has developed such an intense fear that leaving the safety of home feels impossible.