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Panic disorder is a fairly common condition in which a person has uncomfortable episodes of fear or anxiety that occur suddenly and often without warning. The attacks - called panic attacks - can last from minutes to hours. They may occur occasionally or quite frequently and the cause or 'trigger' of these attacks may not be obvious right away. There is a familial tendency, with the age of onset before 25 years old. It occurs more often in women than men (2:1) and approximately 3-5% of the population is affected. Panic disorder can occur in children, but is often not recognized..
What happens during a panic attack?
Because of embarrassment or the fear of taking medicine, many people who have panic attacks don't seek medical care. If you have panic attacks, it is very important to seek medical care and discuss your problem with your doctor. After you have been evaluated thoroughly, your doctor will be able to tell you if the panic attacks are related to panic disorder or are caused by another problem.
Other treatment considerations.
Several kinds of psychological counseling are very effective for treating panic disorder and are as effective as medicine, but do not work as quickly. If an underlying contributing condition can not be found, a combination of both psychological counseling and medicine seems to be the best treatment for panic disorder. Types of behavioral therapy involving counter-conditioning treatment of fear responses have helped to abort panic attacks, but are of little use during the attack. By
imagining a scene a person is just a little afraid of and then using relaxation techniques and affirmations to overcome the fear, people have been able to progressively face more stressful imagined fearful scenes until they were able to tolerate their worst fears.
One study reported that in 9 of 22 patients with panic disorders, attacks were more frequent in winter. The authors suggest that, since there was positive benefit from light therapy in a single patient who underwent light treatment, seasonal panic disorder may be a variant of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). They encouraged the possibility of light therapy in patients with seasonal panic disorder.
Urine samples were taken from 14 untreated panic attack patients and compared to those from 13 age- and sex-matched controls. It was found that panic attack patients had significantly higher pH (alkaline) levels than controls (7.0 versus 5.5). It was suggested that panic disorder individuals may have a series of subtle hyperventilating episodes (breathing too rapidly and/or deeply) that may account for this alkalinity. Urine pH could be a simple way to evaluate respiratory status and subsequently the success of breathing retraining in patients with panic disorder. Since slowing down the breathing rate or breathing into a paper bag will help restore normal pH, these techniques have helped reduce symptoms in some cases.
Additional support for an overly acidic system, apart from breathing, comes from the fact that in people with chronic anxiety unrelated to life events, an injection of sodium lactate can trigger a panic attack.
How long does treatment last?
How long treatment should continue depends on you. The complete elimination of panic attacks is a reasonable goal. Your doctor will design a treatment plan just for you. A treatment period lasting at least 6 to 9 months is usually recommended. Some people with panic disorder are able to stop taking medicine after only a short time, and some people need treatments over long periods of time or even for their lifetime.
 Psychiatric specialists from the University of Göttingen in Germany recently reported results from a new study that found levels of the adrenal stress hormone cortisol surging in the beginning phase of a panic attack. Researchers had twenty-five patients with panic disorder collect multiple saliva samples over a two-hour period while in the grips of a panic attack. Then the patients collected samples again twenty-four hours later, after the attack had subsided. Investigators discovered that levels of cortisol were markedly higher, by nearly 40%, during the early stages of the panic attack than they were the next day, when symptoms had abated.
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Alkaline: A solution having a pH greater than seven.
Anxiety: Apprehension of danger, or dread, accompanied by nervous restlessness, tension, increased heart rate, and shortness of breath unrelated to a clearly identifiable stimulus.
Autoimmune Disease: One of a large group of diseases in which the immune system turns against the body's own cells, tissues and organs, leading to chronic and often deadly conditions. Examples include multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus, Bright's disease and diabetes.
Catecholamine: Any of various amines (as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine) that function as hormones and/or neurotransmitters.
Chronic: Usually Chronic illness: Illness extending over a long period of time.
Diarrhea: Excessive discharge of contents of bowel.
Estrogen: One of the female sex hormones produced by the ovaries.
Hormones: Chemical substances secreted by a variety of body organs that are carried by the bloodstream and usually influence cells some distance from the source of production. Hormones signal certain enzymes to perform their functions and, in this way, regulate such body functions as blood sugar levels, insulin levels, the menstrual cycle, and growth. These can be prescription, over-the-counter, synthetic or natural agents. Examples include adrenal hormones such as corticosteroids and aldosterone; glucagon, growth hormone, insulin, testosterone, estrogens, progestins, progesterone, DHEA, melatonin, and thyroid hormones such as thyroxine and calcitonin.
Nausea: Symptoms resulting from an inclination to vomit.
Nervous System: A system in the body that is comprised of the brain, spinal cord, nerves, ganglia and parts of the receptor organs that receive and interpret stimuli and transmit impulses to effector organs.
Panic Attack: A brief, irrational episode of fear that is perceived as so real that an individual may be driven to escape from the place or situation where it occurs. The attack is sudden and increases in severity until it leaves, usually within ten minutes. Panic attack symptoms are numerous and involve both mental and physical signs and symptoms. A panic attack can occur in other anxiety states such as agoraphobia and with certain activities and places. It may occur spontaneously without an apparent cause.
Panic Disorder: A condition whereby an affected individual has recurrent and unexpected panic attacks and worries a great deal of the time about having another. The individual may also have persistent concern or fear that a panic attack might cause unrelated health problems or a demonstrable change in usual behavior. The symptoms of panic disorder must be present for at least one month to confirm the diagnosis.
pH: A measure of an environment's acidity or alkalinity. The more acidic the solution, the lower the pH. For example, a pH of 1 is very acidic; a pH of 7 is neutral; a pH of 14 is very alkaline.
PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Refined Sugar: The term 'refined sugar' includes not only the “sugar” listed in ingredient listings, but also brown sugar, glucose, fructose and dextrose. Obvious sources include jams and jellies; hidden sources are often mayonnaise, ketchup, salad dressings and other condiments.
Sodium: An essential mineral that our bodies regulate and conserve. Excess sodium retention increases the fluid volume (edema) and low sodium leads to less fluid and relative dehydration. The adult body averages a total content of over 100 grams of sodium, of which a surprising one-third is in bone. A small amount of sodium does get into cell interiors, but this represents only about ten percent of the body content. The remaining 57 percent or so of the body sodium content is in the fluid immediately surrounding the cells, where it is the major cation (positive ion). The role of sodium in the extracellular fluid is maintaining osmotic equilibrium (the proper difference in ions dissolved in the fluids inside and outside the cell) and extracellular fluid volume. Sodium is also involved in nerve impulse transmission, muscle tone and nutrient transport. All of these functions are interrelated with potassium.
Sublingual: Situated or administered under the tongue, for example sublingual glands or sublingual tablets.
Sympathetic Nervous: Sympathetic nervous system: Portion of the autonomic nervous system that is generally associated with “flight or fight” reactions by increasing blood circulation and respiration and decreasing digestion.
Thyroid: Thyroid Gland: An organ with many veins. It is at the front of the neck. It is essential to normal body growth in infancy and childhood. It releases thyroid hormones - iodine-containing compounds that increase the rate of metabolism, affect body temperature, regulate protein, fat, and carbohydrate catabolism in all cells. They keep up growth hormone release, skeletal maturation, and heart rate, force, and output. They promote central nervous system growth, stimulate the making of many enzymes, and are necessary for muscle tone and vigor.