A person who experiences recurrent panic attacks, at least one of which leads to at least a month of increased anxiety or avoidant behavior, is said to have panic disorder. Panic disorder may also be indicated if a person experiences fewer than four panic episodes but has recurrent or constant fears of having another panic attack.
Doctors often try to rule out every other possible alternative before diagnosing panic disorder. To be diagnosed as having panic disorder, a person must experience at least four of the following symptoms during a panic attack: sweating; hot or cold flashes; choking or smothering sensations; racing heart; labored breathing; trembling; chest pains; faintness; numbness; nausea; disorientation; or feelings of dying, losing control, or losing one's mind. Panic attacks typically last about 10 minutes, but may be a few minutes shorter or longer. During the attack, the physical and emotional symptoms increase quickly in a crescendo-like way and then subside. A person may feel anxious and jittery for many hours after experiencing a panic attack.
Panic attacks can occur in anyone. Chemical or hormonal imbalances, drugs or alcohol, stress, or other situational events can cause panic attacks, which are often mistaken for heart attacks, heart disease, or respiratory problems.