Panic Disorder is characterized by the sudden and unexpected onset of physical sensations that are mistaken to be signs of illness, fainting, heart attack, insanity, or even impending death. A diagnosis of panic disorder will come only after other medical or psychiatric conditions are ruled out as causing the symptoms. There are also instances where a patient begins to avoid certain situations or locations because of fear that it will provoke a panic attack. In those cases, they are diagnosed as having panic disorder with agoraphobia. Agoraphobia typically involves fear of being in situations where it may be difficult to escape - like being in a crowd, standing in a line, being in open/enclosed spaces, or traveling in a bus, train, or a car. For these patients, their world may begin to get progressively smaller as they are only comfortable staying in "safe" environment. They also experience distress because of the uncomfortable sensations that they don't know how to manage.
At Child Anxiety Center treatment of panic disorder begins with educating the patient on the true nature of their symptoms and providing them with new ways of relating to them. This begins with a process called interoceptive exposures where panic-like symptoms are induced in a safe and incremental manner until the patient learns to tolerate them. In-vivo exposures are then used to help the patient navigate real life situations where panic has occurred in the past. Cognitive therapy is used throughout treatment to identify and alter mistaken beliefs that inadvertently perpetuate the cycle of avoidance . We may also recommend the use a breathing retraining system, Freespira®, that helps patients learn how prevent panic attacks by increasing blood levels of carbon dioxide. Our goal is to help our patients regain their lifestyle regardless of the panic.