Panic Anxiety Disorder, also known as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), is described as sudden and severe episodes of intense feelings and symptoms that can physically and mentally overcome the affected person. These sensations reach their peak within a couple minutes and may take up to a few hours to fade. Women are more commonly affected by this disorder than men, and it usually surfaces between the ages of twenty and thirty. It is rare to develop in elderly and children.
Symptoms of GAD differ and may be more/less intense from person-to-person. Some of the symptoms may include:
>Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing
>Angina (chest pain)
>Tingling sensation in toes and fingers
>Fear that you are going/about to die
Patients with this disorder may go through many doctors and a lot of wasted time and money trying to figure out what is wrong with them (if not diagnosed right away). Sufferers will visit the emergency room and multiple doctors many times, just to be told nothing was found wrong with them. This has caused many GAD patients to be “classified” as hypochondriacs. Once classified as such, doctors and medical professionals tend to take the patient less serious when they come in for an evaluation of any sort.
GAD sufferers may eventually feel that they have come to a “dead end” and give up on finding help for their problem. The effects may slowly develop into seclusion and a depressed state of living. Many undiagnosed patients begin to avoid activities because they fear that they will have an attack in front of people. To friends and family members, this type of avoidance behavior may seem as if the patient is scared or fearful of a particular activity or thing, but in actuality, they are fearful that the activity may trigger them to have another attack. In some patients, the tendency to avoid activities in everyday life will expand to more and more activities/situations and will eventually lead to agoraphobia (avoidance behavior that is so severe that a person may not leave his/her home). As time goes on, the person may become psychologically stressed and withdrawn and be overcome by depression because of the restricted lifestyle that they live.
One-fifth of the undiagnosed GAD population make an attempt to end their lives because they perceive that there is no treatment for their problem. Many others turn to alcohol to rid themselves of the worry and feelings that can trigger an attack. Panic anxiety attacks do not cause death, but they do cause a lot of stress and emotional pain to the person that is experiencing them. People that have GAD lose their ability to be productive due to preoccupation with preventing their next attack. Humiliation is another problem that hurts these victims, which is why many of them choose to stay home and avoid the possibility of embarrassment. This disorder overcomes some people to the point where they can no longer hold a job and have to receive disability compensation. One of the hardest outcomes of the condition is that the life of the patient’s family is restricted in many ways. Friends and family members yearn for things to go back to “normal.” It is never easy to watch a loved one go through times of depression and heartache, especially when there’s nothing that can be done for them. That is why a correct diagnosis is the determining factor in the quality of life that the person and their family will have.
Panic Anxiety Disorder is extremely treatable and the prognosis is very good for nearly all affected people. As always, educating the patient is one of the most important tasks in the treatment process. This allows them to approach the problem with a positive attitude and more confidence. The next step is finding a medication that can eliminate the attacks. There are three types of medications that are commonly used including:
>Nardil- known to be the most effective medication for GAD, but has strict dietary restrictions and may lead to adverse reactions if taken in combination with certain medications. This medication is safe if the user is very committed to following the doctor’s orders. If used carelessly, the medication can cause a substantial elevation in blood pressure.
>Antidepressants- These may take a few weeks before they begin to work and also carry a wide array of side-effects, some of which cause the attacks to occur more often and worsen for a couple weeks. After the body adjusts to the new medication, it begins to block the attacks. Many people are discouraged after the symptoms worsen, and discontinue using the drug before the positive effects can be noticed.
>High-Potency Benzodiazepine Tranquilizers- used to block attacks with minimal side-effects. These begin working within minutes of consumption.
>Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy- working with a qualified therapist to create a “plan of attack” and keep track of progress. It is always good to work one-on-one with a specialist to design a plan that will work well for a person’s particular situation. Some people need to take really tiny steps at a time, while others are capable of overcoming the obstacles quickly.
Though the cause of Panic Anxiety Disorder is unknown, some researchers believe that GAD is more likely to occur in people that went through an experience of separation when they were young. Others think that the locus ceruleus (nerve center that is responsible for controlling breathing, heartbeat, and multiple other vital functions) and its’ pathways may function abnormally compared to somebody that does not suffer from anxiety attacks.
After starting treatment, patients can usually return to their “normal” ways of life. This accomplishment may take a little time, but prognosis is typically good with the proper medication (and if necessary, therapy). The key to success is taking each and every fear and avoided activity and overcoming them one at a time. That is where the patient’s confidence comes into play. If the patient trusts that the medication will work, they will attempt to put themselves into the usually avoided situations, and then realize that the panic attack will not occur because the medication will block it from happening. Through this, the patient will slowly put more faith in the treatment and begin to take bigger leaps forward until normal living is achieved.