Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia



The word “panic” derives from the Greek god, Pan, who,

in addition to being a mean flutist was also just plain mean.

He liked to terrorize solitary travelers when they were at

their most vulnerable, causing them to suddenly “panic”.

You don’t have to travel to have a panic attack but most

attacks do happen away from home.  This can lead to a

generalized fear of leaving home, a related condition known

as agoraphobia (literally in Greek, fear of the market place).

Panic attacks can also occur at home and agoraphobia is

not always preceded by a panic attack, but they both involve

fear which is difficult to trace to its source.  The two

disorders differ from true phobias in this respect:  there is

no apparent cause.

Nevertheless, occasional panic attacks are fairly common

in the general population.  About 10% of people will have one

at some point in their lives.  About 2% will have chronic

problems with panic or agoraphobia.

The most prevalent symptoms of Panic Disorder are

intense feelings of physical distress.  Pounding pulse,

labored breathing, sweating, shaking and nausea often lead to

the mistaken conclusion that there is a heart attack in

progress, or even a psychotic episode.

This can be so frightening that the fear of a recurrence

becomes the biggest fear of all.  Thus, the avoidance of all

threatening or potentially threatening situations.

Agoraphobia is a likely result of untreated Panic Disorder.

There is probably a hereditary component in the disorder

since 40% of sufferers have a close relative with it.

Clearly, panic attack is the result of a natural alarm system

gone haywire.  Indeed, the physical symptoms of normal

anxiety (rapid breathing and pulse, sweating and trembling)

mimic the feelings associated with having a heart attack or

suffocating and might be mistaken for them by the panic-prone


Treatment for Panic Disorder involves both medication

(antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs) and psychotherapy.

For further information or referral contact the Anxiety

Disorders Association of America (


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