Panic Disorder & Panic Attacks

Unlike traditional psychiatry, which rarely looks at the brain, Amen Clinics uses brain imaging technology to identify brain patterns associated with panic disorder and panic attacks.

What is Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder in which a person experiences recurrent panic attacks. A panic attack involves sudden feelings of intense fear and worry combined with overwhelming physical symptoms even though there is no real danger present. Panic attacks themselves are not life threatening, but they can make you feel like you can’t breathe, like you’re having a heart attack, or like you might die. Panic attacks tend to come on suddenly and without warning. They can hit you anywhere at any time—even in places you would expect to feel safe. For example, a panic attack can wake you from a sound sleep in your own bed, hit you when you’re on vacation at the beach, or strike while you’re in church. The distressing feelings can linger long after the initial onset of the panic attack. You may begin to live in fear of having another attack and begin avoiding places or situations where you think it might happen again. This can ruin your quality of life and cause problems at work, at school, and at home.

Who Has Panic Disorder?

Each year, about 1 in 10 American adults experience at least one panic attack. And it is estimated that about one-third of all Americans will have one during their lifetime. However, having a single panic attack doesn’t mean you have panic disorder. The recurring panic attacks that characterize panic disorder only affect 2-3% of people in the U.S. The disorder usually emerges in adulthood, but it can also affect children.

Women are twice as likely to suffer from this mental health condition than men. And women who experienced postpartum depression may be at increased risk of panic disorder later in life during menopause. Numerous studies suggest that some people have a genetic predisposition for the disorder as it tends to run in families.

What are the Core Symptoms?

Panic disorder is considered to be an anxiety disorder, which is the most common mental health condition in America. Every year, 40 million American adults (over 18% of the population) experience anxiety. Panic attacks are associated with physical and psychological symptoms, including chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, numbness, a feeling like you are going crazy or even dying.

What Causes Panic Disorder?

With panic disorder, as well as other types of anxiety disorders, it is also important to look for other possible causes of your symptoms. Hormonal imbalances, exposure to toxins (such as toxic mold), and chronic infections (such as Lyme disease) may contribute to anxiety issues, including panic attacks. Finding an integrative practitioner who performs lab tests to check for these possible contributing factors can be key to getting a complete and accurate diagnosis.

Panic disorder increases your risk of other mental health disorders, including:

  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance use disorders
  • Phobias (agoraphobia, social phobias)
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Suicidal thoughts and behavior

Why Choose Amen Clinics for Panic Disorder Treatment?

In traditional psychiatry, where diagnoses are based solely on symptom clusters, it is not uncommon for panic disorder to be misdiagnosed. Conditions that share similarities with panic disorder include PTSD, obsessive compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder, or generalized anxiety disorder. In addition, traditional practitioners often ignore other biological issues that may contribute to anxiety and panic disorder, including hormonal imbalances, or exposure to toxins. Amen Clinics uses brain SPECT imaging as well as lab tests as part of a comprehensive evaluation to more accurately diagnose and treat panic disorder.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Panic Disorder Brains Work Differently

Brain imaging shows that panic disorder is not a character flaw or personal weakness. It is associated with biological changes in the brain. Brain SPECT scans show that overactivity in the basal ganglia is commonly seen in people with anxiety, and panic disorder but there can also be other areas with abnormal activity.

Healthy Brain Scan

Panic Disorder Brain Scan

SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) is a nuclear medicine study that evaluates blood flow and activity in the brain. Basically, it shows three things: healthy activity, too little activity, or too much activity. A healthy “active” scan shows the most active parts of the brain with blue representing the average activity and red (or sometimes red and white) representing the most active parts of the brain. In the healthy scan on the left, the most active area is in the cerebellum, at the back/bottom part of the brain. The brain scan on the right is from a person with panic disorder and shows marked increased activity in the basal ganglia.

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Diagnosing & Treating Panic Disorder

In traditional psychiatry, where diagnoses are based solely on symptom clusters, it is not uncommon for panic disorder to be misdiagnosed. Conditions that share similarities with panic disorder include PTSD, obsessive compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder, or generalized anxiety disorder. An inaccurate diagnosis and improper treatment can exacerbate your symptoms and keep you mired in paralyzing fear of another panic attack.

With panic disorder, as well as other types of anxiety disorders, it is also important to look for other possible causes of your symptoms. Hormonal imbalances, exposure to toxins (such as toxic mold), and chronic infections (such as Lyme disease) may contribute to anxiety issues, including panic attacks. Finding an integrative practitioner who performs lab tests to check for these possible contributing factors can be key to getting a complete and accurate diagnosis.

Beware that traditional treatment with antianxiety medications can be harmful to the brain. For example, benzodiazepines suppress brain activity and can make the brain look toxic (shriveled or low in activity), and they have been found to increase the risk of dementia.

Unfortunately, traditional psychiatry typically takes a one-size-fits-all approach to diagnosis and treatment. But panic disorder isn’t a simple or single disorder. Giving everybody the same treatment will never work. You need to address all the factors in your life that contribute to your symptoms. This is why it is so important to look at the brain to identify underlying brain patterns associated with the condition. Functional brain imaging with SPECT, which measures blood flow and activity in the brain, lets you see what is happening in your brain so a plan can be personalized for your brain type to help you feel better.

 

“With A Better Brain Comes A Better Life”

– Daniel G. Amen, M.D.

 

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