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A panic disorder is characterized by “repeated, unexpected panic attacks” over a period of time. These patients may find themselves apprehensive of another attack. Panic disorders are often connected to traumatic experiences or sudden change. So patients likely to avoid the experiences that tend to trigger their panic attacks. But what risk factors contribute to panic disorders?

Visit the best panic attack specialist Los Angeles has around at Cognitive Behavior Associates.

What Risk Factors Contribute to Panic Disorders?

Not everyone who has experienced a panic attack has a panic disorder. In fact, panic attacks are not uncommon. Studies suggest that between 3 and 5% of the United States population experience at least one panic attack each year. However, that is not to say it isn’t an important indicator of mental health. If you have had even one panic attack, you should seek professional medical attention. Experts can help ensure the problem does not escalate to the point of being a disorder.

What is a Panic Attack?

Panic attacks generally last for 5 to 10 minutes. They remain part of a natural stress response that fits within the realm of the fight or flight instinct. The pulse quickens. The rate of breathing increases, but the person undergoing the panic attack will likely act seemingly irrationally. It is best described as an intense fear of fear. As a result, there is no direct threat to fight or run from, leaving the patient stuck in a state of panic with no immediate way to address their fear.

Given that the body can’t rely on normal responses perceived danger, it proves impossible to predict exactly what symptoms someone may experience during a panic attack. Nausea, dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath, and a lack of control appear commonly. However, the nature of the trigger that set off the panic attack can result in different symptoms. That means that if someone seems in an irrationally panicked state in response to a non-immediate threat, they could be dealing with a panic attack.

Considering Risk Factors

Genetics do play a role in panic disorders in some cases. If your family has a strong history of them, you should consider proactive treatment. This especially applies if you struggle with other aspects of your mental health. Research also shows that women prove about twice as likely to develop panic disorders. However, whether this stems from genetic or socially driven sources remains unclear.

That being said, the most prominent risk factor for panic disorders is a traumatic life experience. Abuse, the loss of a loved one, a near-death experience, or a major life change can negatively affect a person’s sense of control. Although we don’t always think about it, feeling control over the most personal and important aspects of your life is integral to feeling secure and happy. When a person who has experienced trauma or a major life event encounters a trigger, it can awaken that lack of control, prompting an intense fear response.

How to Alleviate the Symptoms of a Panic Disorder

In some cases, medical professionals will suggest medication to help control the immediate symptoms of a severe panic disorder. However, medication never should serve as a full replacement for targeted therapy. Anyone suffering from a panic disorder should have the full benefit of a medical team. And one prepared to use medication and behavioral therapy together to give the patient the best quality of life as quickly as possible. Cognitive behavior therapy exists as an important part of this treatment.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Los Angeles

At Cognitive Behavior Associates, experts work with patients to learn about the nature of their disorder. This baseline understanding always proves an important tool. The staff help patients recognize their triggers and slowly work through breathing techniques to help reduce their response. From there, they can help patients to restructure their thought process by using logic to identify unhelpful thoughts while the patient is not under the influence of the panic attack. Due to this careful, tiered approach, a cognitive behavior expert can eventually help people to stay in control even when faced with a trigger in life.

Although they aren’t necessarily common, panic disorders affect between 2 and 3% of all American adults. In fact, 4.7% of American adults will experience a panic attack during their lifetime. These statistics are markedly higher for adults in their late teens to early twenties and doubled for women. For friends and family, it is important to know how to help someone having a panic attack.

Due to the concentration of cases in these demographics, the reality is that you probably know someone who has or currently does suffer from a panic disorder. In order to do what you can for them in the event of an attack, you must be able to recognize a panic attack and respond effectively.

What to Look For

The symptoms of a panic attack can vary from person to person. In some minor cases, they are almost indiscernible if you don’t know what to look for because the most common symptoms are mainly internal. Mental Health First Aid warns that panic attacks can manifest in several ways. The following list comprises the most common symptoms.

  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Numbness
  • Dizziness
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Chest Pain
  • Abdominal Distress
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Fear of “going crazy” or dying
  • Chills and Hot Flashes
  • Feeling Choked
  • Feeling Faint
  • Feeling that you are detached from reality

Given the nature of these symptoms, a bystander is only likely to notice general physical and emotional distress. You may note that they are breathing heavily or look visibly confused. Unfortunately, these symptoms could be associated with a long list of other medical conditions.
Therefore, your first priority is to assess the situation to establish what the person is going through.

Assessing the Situation

Differentiating a panic attack from a medical situation that requires emergency help can be difficult, so your ability to assess the situation will rely on your ability to communicate clearly and concisely. A person in the throes of a panic attack will only be able to process small amounts of information at a time. All of their internal systems are in over-drive, so you will need to be patient.

Ask and Listen

Start by asking short, basic questions.

  • “Has this happened before?” Wait for a response. Try a different question if you get no answer.
  • “Do you want an ambulance?”
  • “Have you been feeling stressed?”

Your goal is to figure out if they know what is happening to them and if they require emergency help. Regardless of whether you end up calling 911, you will need to manage the situation until the attack has passed or the ambulance arrives.

Managing the Attack

Your last question should always be, “What might help you?” If they need to be moved away from a crowd or sat down, offer aid. Once they’re settled, stop asking questions. Instead, provide gentle assurance. Stay calm, talk slowly, and help them to focus on their breathing by encouraging them to count to ten with you.

On average, the longest attacks can last between 20 and 30 minutes, but most panic attacks will only last 5 to 10 minutes. During this time, stay with them to ensure continuity and support while they recover.

After the Attack

Once the attack has passed, it is important to show that you genuinely care for their well-being. See if they need you to call someone to pick them up, and encourage them to reach out to a medical professional regarding their attacks.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be used to teach patients how to recognize their triggers and manage their symptoms. In ten weekly sessions, the “Panic No More” program at Cognitive Behavior Associates will help patients to restructure their reactions to common anxiety behaviors and address avoidance behaviors.