Panic Disorder (Panic Attack)

As its name suggests, panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that is characterized by sudden, unexpected panic attacks. These panic attacks can be so severe that some panic attacks can mimic the symptoms of a heart attack. They also can show up whether the person is in an anxious state or not. Note that the information shared below is meant for educational purposes only and not for diagnosing.


  • Panic attacks that can come with 4 or more of these symptoms
    • Heart palpitations, fast heart rate, difficulty breathing
    • Chest pain or tightness
    • Sweating
    • Trembling
    • Feeling lightheaded, dizzy, or that you are about to faint
    • Nausea, stomach issues
    • Chills or hot flashes, numbness or tingling sensations esp. hands)
    • Fear of losing control, of dying or going crazy
    • Feeling disconnected from the world
  • Fear of having panic attacks
  • Significant avoidance of potential triggers of panic attacks


  • Panic disorder with agoraphobia ( fear or avoidance of places that trigger panic attacks, sometimes leading to refusal to leave home)
  • Panic disorder without agoraphobia


  • Childhood trauma, trauma, and highly stressful life events (e.g. abuse, loss, heartbreak, disaster)
  • Family history/Genetics (runs in the family)
  • Chronic illness
  • Longterm stress
  • Side effects of some medications


Treatment includes one or a combination of:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Medication (Anxiolytics, antidepressants, benzodiazepines)
  • Relaxation techniques (deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, etc.)
  • Gradual & careful exposure therapy
  • Lifestyle & behavioral changes

African Context

Culture can impact the way some of the symptoms of panic disorder manifest. Sometimes individuals experiencing a panic attack will cry and scream, while others may not. In Africa, just like most other psychological disorders, understanding of the panic disorder is limited, most people either seek medical attention for the physical symptoms or attribute the panic attacks to “spiritual attacks”. This prevents the affected person from getting the adequate professional attention they need. So, if you or someone you know is struggling with depression, reach out to a professional for help.


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