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Why Are Panic Disorders Often Misdiagnosed?

Panic disorders do not date back as far as you might think. It wasn’t until 1980 when the American Psychiatric Association first recognized the condition as a mental health issue. At that point, panic disorder was categorized in the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Mental health professionals, psychiatrists, and researchers have debated the criteria and what should be included in the diagnosis of panic disorder.

Given that agoraphobia and panic disorder are relatively new disorders, there are various misconceptions about panic disorder. Unfortunately, the difficulty that mental health care professionals have in agreeing about the criteria gives the potential for the condition to be misdiagnosed. After reaching out for help, it’s common to be either misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. Here are some of the potential reasons why panic disorders are often misdiagnosed.

Related Co-Occurring Conditions

Various mental health conditions possess similar features and symptoms of panic disorder. Panic disorder is classified as an anxiety disorder, according to the DSM, and anxiety disorder has similarities, including underlying worry and fear. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are all anxiety-related conditions that share traits with panic disorder. Since they are so closely related, it’s easy to understand why misdiagnosis occurs.

It’s also common for someone with panic disorder to have another mental health condition in conjunction with panic disorder. A misdiagnosis will occur when one disorder is unrecognized. Depression, for example, is a mood disorder that accompanies the panic disorder. If someone is struggling with symptoms of panic and depression, it’s possible that depression symptoms are more prevalent than panic disorder symptoms. 

Miscommunication with Doctors

If you seek help for your anxiety and panic disorder, it’s crucial to find a professional who is knowledgeable about the topic. Psychiatrists, family doctors, psychologists, and mental health counselors are professionals who treat panic disorder. For you to get the right diagnosis, you must be open and honest about the symptoms you are experiencing. 

A misdiagnosis will occur if your doctor does not have the necessary information on what you’ve been experiencing. The right communication with your doctor will help you get the treatment you need. You must discuss any concerns with your doctor about your diagnosis and not be afraid of getting a second opinion.

Not Understanding Panic Disorder

If you are diagnosed with a mental health condition, you must have your primary care physician explain the diagnostic criteria and the reasoning behind that diagnosis. If you feel that you’ve been misdiagnosed, it’s possible you did not fit the criteria for panic disorder. Misdiagnosis is a critical issue, and if you’ve been misdiagnosed or go undiagnosed, you will not receive adequate treatment for your panic disorder.

If you feel that you haven’t received the right diagnosis, you should address these concerns with a doctor or mental health professional. It’s helpful to have a list of symptoms available. Consider enlisting a supportive loved one to join you in your appointment to discuss your concerns. Your doctor will likely address these concerns and devise a treatment plan that helps you manage these symptoms. 

Sources

Depression. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml

National Center. (2013, August 15). VA.gov: Veterans Affairs. Retrieved from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/

Agoraphobia. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/agoraphobia.shtml

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/practice/dsm

Panic Disorder. (2019, November 5). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/panicdisorder.html

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