Persons experiencing repetitive, severe panic attacks may simply have panic attacks and that is all. Other persons may begin to experience a progression of bothersome or distressing panic attack "side effects". This progression commonly occurs as follows:
1 A few weeks or months prior to the first panic attack there are sometimes minor symptoms such as rapid heart beat.
2 The first major panic attack occurs. The person often seeks emergency medical evaluation at this time. The initial examination is commonly normal.
3 Continued panic attacks cause the person to seek further medical evaluations which may be inconclusive. Many panic attack sufferers go for months or years before receiving the proper diagnosis and by that time may have seen over a dozen physicians, psychologists and counselors. This appearance of "doctor shopping" may cause others to regard the sufferer as a hypochondriac.
4 An individual with Panic Disorder may begin to avoid a certain activity because it occurs to them that it would be especially embarrassing or dangerous to have an attack while engaged in that activity. A typical sufferer of Panic Disorder might think, "It's bad enough to have an attack at all, but it would be dangerous to have one on Interstate 75 because I would be preoccupied with the attack and would not be a safe driver. I might wreck my car, injuring myself or someone else!" This avoidance behavior may appear to be a fear of driving when it is really a fear of having a panic attack while driving.
5 Tendencies to avoid circumstances in everyday life may increase and extend to more activities. This extensive avoidance behavior is referred to as agoraphobia.
Places, activities or circumstances frequently avoided by persons with Panic
6 After months or years of continuous panic attacks and the restricted lifestyle caused by the typical avoidance behavior, the sufferer of Panic Disorder may become demoralized and psychologically or physically depressed.
Some sufferers turn to alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate or to diminish the symptoms of the disorder. This greatly complicates the individual's life and ability to seek appropriate treatment.
Tragically, one out of every five untreated sufferers attempts to end his or her life, never realizing that there was hope and treatment available.
A person will not die from a panic attack. But, Panic Disorder does indeed cause damage. It is difficult to estimate the misery and loss of overall productivity that this disorder causes.
There is personal pain and humiliation and a restricted lifestyle. There are missed days of work due to panic attacks. There may be unemployment due to partial or complete disability. There is increased risk of alcoholism and suicide.
Add the unhappiness the disorder causes in the loved ones of panic disorder and the consequential loss of their productivity. You come to realize that the total magnitude of the damage that the disorder causes nationally is staggering. And we haven't even touched on the tremendous cost that the waste of misdiagnosis and unnecessary or inappropriate medical care adds to the damage estimate. Drug and alcohol abuse are the number one public concern of Americans. However, Anxiety Disorders affect more Americans than the combined toll of drug and alcohol abuse. And yet Anxiety Disorders are not even in the top fifty of Americans' public concerns. The federal government has developed a plan to deal with this problem.
Stephen Cox, MD
President - NAF
Linda Vernon Blair
C. Todd Strecker
Board of Directors:
Father Edward Bradley
Sarah Wood Cox
Keith Hartman MD
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