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 (www.adaa.org.)