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Panic Disorders and PTSD

PTSD, otherwise known as post-traumatic stress disorder, is a condition that may occur after someone has experienced a traumatic event involving the threat of bodily injury, intense fear, or death. Some examples may include sexual assault, natural disasters, or military combat.

An individual does not have to experience an event firsthand to experience the disorder. The person may witness something traumatic, such as an attack on someone that leads to accidental death, which can cause symptoms to appear. PTSD may also occur when someone hears details about someone else’s exposure to trauma. It might include the tragic death of a family member or friend, or finding out someone close is diagnosed with a terminal condition.Those with PTSD commonly struggle with other co-occurring anxiety-related conditions, such as depression or substance abuse issues. It’s not uncommon for someone with PTSD to also be diagnosed with a condition known as panic disorder. Each disorder contains its own set of diagnostic criteria, symptoms, and treatment options. There are many differences between PTSD and panic disorder that are determined by several factors.

Factors that separate panic disorder include:

  • Shaking, trembling, and trouble breathing
  • Avoidance of panic attack triggers
  • Sudden or spontaneous panic attacks
  • The potential to develop agoraphobia

Factors that separate PTSD include:

  • Hyperarousal and trouble concentrating
  • Avoidance of trauma reminders
  • Panic attacks brought on by the person re-experiencing the trauma
  • Intrusive thoughts and nightmares

Symptoms of Panic Disorder and PTSD

Those with panic disorder will experience various physical symptoms that are associated with panic attacks. These include shaking, sweating, trembling, chest pain, and difficulty breathing. These feelings may become so severe that a person may believe they are either losing control, having a critical medical issue like a heart attack or that they’re going crazy. Individuals with panic disorders believe these attacks will happen again without warning, which makes them live in fear to the anticipation of their next attack.

PTSD symptoms are divided into three categories, which include increased arousal, re-experiencing the event, and avoidance behaviors. Re-experiencing these symptoms will consist of nightmares, flashbacks of the traumatic event, and intrusive thoughts. Avoidance behaviors involve staying away from anything that reminds them of the trauma – this includes places, thoughts, or memories associated with what occurred. Hyperarousal symptoms consist of a lack of concentration, frequent irritability, and becoming easily startled. 

Treating Panic Disorder and PTSD

There are various treatment options for panic disorder that can also be effective in treating PTSD. Many medications may be used to reduce symptoms. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are used to treat depression, hyperarousal, and reduce anxiety. Benzodiazepines are also used for their sedative effect.

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Psychotherapy is also used to reduce symptoms, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common and successful treatments to reduce symptoms. A person will learn to manage their fears through relaxation techniques and continually practicing gradual exposure through therapy. Over time, certain stimuli that used to be a trigger will no longer cause anxiety or extreme nervousness in the individual.

Sources

Benzodiazepines. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.dea.gov/factsheets/benzodiazepines

Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. (n.d.). Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) Information. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/drugs/information-drug-class/selective-serotonin-reuptake-inhibitors-ssris-information

Lau, J. T. F., Griffiths, S., Choi, K. C., & Tsui, H. Y. (2010, May 28). Avoidance behaviors and negative psychological responses in the general population in the initial stage of the H1N1 pandemic in Hong Kong. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2891756/

Panic Disorder: When Fear Overwhelms. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/panic-disorder-when-fear-overwhelms/index.shtml

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml

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