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The Severity Scale for Panic Disorders

Panic attacks are disturbing and can disrupt your life in major ways. A variety of issues, both physical and psychological, can cause them. Because panic attacks can be brought on by many different problems, and come with a wide range of symptoms, panic disorders can be difficult to diagnose. 

To help diagnose panic disorders and their severity, doctors and clinicians use the Panic Disorder Severity Scale (PDSS). This questionnaire can help you investigate how serious your problem is, and it can inform your clinician on how to approach treatment. The PDSS has been studied in scientific settings, and it has shown to be useful in finding treatment and measuring the success of treatment. Learn more about the Panic Disorder Severity Scale and how it can help in clinical settings.   

What Is a Panic Disorder?

A panic disorder is a mental health condition that’s characterized by panic attacks and periods of anxiety that happen when you are worried about having another panic attack. A panic attack is a sudden rush of discomfort, anxiety, or fear that may be accompanied by four or more of the following symptoms:

  • Tachycardia (fast or irregular heart rhythm)
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Choking sensation
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Depersonalization
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Sense of impending doom
  • Fear of losing control
  • Chills

Panic disorders can also involve avoidance of places and situations in which a panic attack occurred. For instance, if you have a panic attack in the grocery store, you may believe that you can avoid another panic attack if you don’t go to that store. As panic disorders progress, you may start avoiding more and more places and activities that you associate with attacks. However, panic attacks can happen without external provocation, and it may not have anything to do with your surroundings at the time. 

In extreme cases, panic attacks may progress into agoraphobia, which involves extreme isolation due to anxiety and fear. 

What Is the PDSS? 

The Panic Disorder Severity Scale is a seven-question self-reporting form that explores your experiences with panic attacks. It also looks at “limited symptom attacks,” which are episodes that involve fewer than four panic symptoms. The PDSS was developed in 1997, and it was modeled after the similar Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale.

Ideally, you would go through these questions with a doctor or clinician who can process your answers with you to get the best impression of your needs. Each answer to the questions is rated with a score between 0 and 4. At the end of the questionnaire, the scores are combined to get a picture of relative severity. The higher your score, the more likely you are to have a severe panic disorder. 

The scale involves questions like, “How many panic and limited symptoms attacks did you have during the week?” and “how distressing were the panic attacks you experienced?” It also explores the degree to which your panic symptoms interfere with your life and the presence of avoidance behavior. 

The scale isn’t meant to be a self-diagnosis tool. Instead, it’s meant to help a professional reach a diagnosis. If you believe you have a serious problem, it’s important to speak to a doctor or clinician who can help.

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Mayo Clinic. (2018, May 04). Panic attacks and panic disorder. Retrieved from

Keough, M., Porter, E., Kredlow, M., Worthington, J., Hoge, E., Pollack, M., . . . Simon, N. (2012, June). Anchoring the Panic Disorder Severity Scale. Retrieved from

National Institute of Mental Health. (2018, July). Anxiety Disorders. Retrieved from Medicine. (n.d.).

Shear MK, Brown TA, Barlow DH, Money R, Sholomskas DE, Woods SW, Gorman JM, Papp LA. Multicenter collaborative Panic Disorder Severity Scale. American Journal of Psychiatry 1997;154:1571-1575. PDF. from,%20assessment%20pdss.pdf

Panic Disorder Severity Scale – Self Report Form. Retrieved from

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