Exposure therapy has been around for a long time. It involves exposing the patient in a safe and controlled environment to physical sensations they experience during a panic attack much the same way you‘d expose in small increments a person with a fear of trains or puppies or snakes to the things that scares them. With panic disorder, there’s often a heightened sensitivity to ordinary physical sensations such as racing heart, stomach ache or feeling faint. In exposure therapy, the therapist will ask you to mimic activities—like running around or doing jumping jacks or holding your breath—to cause panic symptoms. The idea is that by repeating the things that may trigger a panic attack those triggers will eventually lose their power.
If the person has a family history of seizures or symptoms that are not typical for panic attack, a neurologist may be asked to evaluate the person. There is some overlap between the symptoms of panic attack and what is known as "partial seizures." Distinguishing between the two is important because the treatment for each is quite different. A neurologist, if consulted, will order an EEG (electroencephalogram) to check for seizure activity in the brain. This is a painless test but does require some time to complete (typically overnight).
Panic disorder is characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress. These sensations often mimic symptoms of a heart attack or other life-threatening medical conditions. As a result, the diagnosis of panic disorder is frequently not made until extensive and costly medical procedures fail to provide a correct diagnosis or relief.
Furthermore, certain organic diseases may present with anxiety or symptoms that mimic anxiety.[6][7] These disorders include certain endocrine diseases (hypo- and hyperthyroidism, hyperprolactinemia),[7][73] metabolic disorders (diabetes),[7][74][75] deficiency states (low levels of vitamin D, B2, B12, folic acid),[7] gastrointestinal diseases (celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, inflammatory bowel disease),[76][77][78] heart diseases, blood diseases (anemia),[7] cerebral vascular accidents (transient ischemic attack, stroke),[7] and brain degenerative diseases (Parkinson's disease, dementia, multiple sclerosis, Huntington's disease), among others.[7][79][80][81]
People with panic disorder often worry about when the next attack will happen and actively try to prevent future attacks by avoiding places, situations, or behaviors they associate with panic attacks. Worry about panic attacks, and the effort spent trying to avoid attacks, cause significant problems in various areas of the person’s life, including the development of agoraphobia (see below).
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