Categorized | Stress

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Panic Disorder, Anxiety Disorder – Definitions and Differences

Fear and anxiety are experiences that everyone has from time to time. Fear is a response, behavioral, emotional and physical to an event, immediately recognized as an external threat (oncoming car). Anxiety is a unpleasant, distressing state of uneasiness and nervousness. Causes of anxiety are less clear less tied to exact timing of a threat. It can occur in anticipation of a threat, continue after a threat has passed or occur with no identifiable threat. It is often accompanied by changes and behaviors similar to those caused by fear.

Anxiety can be adaptive helping one to prepare, rehearse and function in a satisfactory way. It can also help one be appropriately cautious in situations that are potentially dangerous. However, if anxiety occurs beyond a particular level, it causes dysfunction and distress. Then it is maladaptive and classified as a disorder.

So what is a disorder? What is a panic attack? What is panic disorder? What are anxiety and anxiety disorder? Is there a difference between a panic attack, panic disorder, anxiety and anxiety disorder? Much of the time, they are used interchangeably; It is easy to get confused. I found myself getting confused when I started to research various ways of treating these conditions. This article is an attempt to sort these words out.

As the saying goes: “It only takes one panic attack to know you never want another one.” But.again, what, exactly is a panic attack?

Mental Health Professionals depend on a manual, DSM-IV-TR for diagnoses, descriptions, treatments for most pathological mental problems. Most of what is in this article is taken from that manual. Information is restricted to the questions above.

The word “disorder” is used in several pathologies of mental function.

Disorder – a derangement or abnormality of function, a morbid physical and/or mental state.

Anxiety – everyone feels anxious sometimes; it is a part of life. However, if anxiety is so high that it interferes with one’s life, then it is used as a general term referring to worry and fear and a general feeling of “something is wrong”.

Anxiety disorder – this is a classification from the DSM-IV-TR. Other mental disorders are grouped under this general term. These are:

Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder – a panic attack is a sudden, intense feeling of fear accompanied with an overwhelming sense of danger. Uncomfortable and frightening physical symptoms accompany this feeling. Some of the symptoms are: rapid heart beat (am I having a heart attack?), rapid breathing, (I can’t get my breath;am I suffocating?), profuse sweating, Once someone has a panic attack, it is very likely they will experience another one so that panic attacks may occur repeatedly. They then feel anxiety about having another attack.

Panic Disorder is a condition where Panic Attacks occur frequently. Panic attacks can occur with Agarophobia or without Agarophobia (fear of going to or being in a particular place or situation) Agarophobia can get so bad that an individual will not go out of their house. Often they will not go to a place where they have already had a panic attack. Obviously, this condition leads to a very unsatisfactory, dysfunctional state.

GAD or general anxiety disorder – An anxiety disorder characterized by irrational worry about everyday matters. It can and often does interfere with daily functioning. Often there are physical symptoms, such as fatigue, headaches, nausea, muscle aches, numbness in feet or hands. In order for a diagnosis of GAD to be made, the symptoms must be consistent and long lasting for at least 6 months.

Sometimes panic attack and anxiety attack are used interchangeably. However in a clinical sense they are not the same.

An anxiety attack is not defined in the DSM-IV-TR. The term used is: anxiety disorder or General Anxiety Disorder. Anxiety Disorder differs from Panic Disorder in that Anxiety Disorder lasts for a long time; it seems to be a constant in one’s life. You wake up feeling anxious, feel anxious all day and go to bed feeling anxious. This also leads to a dysfunctional, unsatisfactory life.

It is important to get treatment for both GAD and Panic Disorder as both can be extremely disabling. Life for sufferers of either or both of these disorders is very unpleasant, interfering drastically with a person’s life. Sometimes a person will have both disorders, Panic and GAD.

Treatment is available. There are several treatments ranging from psychotherapy to medications. However, often conventional treatments don’t always work. I have researched several non-conventional treatments available on the Internet. Reviews of these programs are or will be available in other articles.

I hope this article has been helpful and you understand the differences among all of these terms.

To Your Good Health and Freedom from anxiety and/or Panic Attacks

Helen Nickerson

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