Have you ever felt an overwhelming fear of suddenly losing control almost to the point of having a heart attack or dying? Then you are part of the 4% that experience panic disorder.


The 10th of July is National Panic Awareness Day, which has been set aside to create greater awareness around the debilitating condition where sufferers often experience feelings of anxiety and panic, often with no specific trigger.

While it’s normal for everyone to experience panic at certain times, panic disorder is when recurrent and unexpected panic attacks occur, where victims live in constant fear of another panic attack.

A panic attack is an unpleasant sensation of intense fear that comes without warning and can happen anywhere and at any time. This often prevents the individual from leaving home and avoiding certain places and activities – increasing their risk of depression. Symptoms include a racing heart, sweating, chills, trembling, difficulty breathing, weakness or dizziness, numbness in the hands, being out of breath (hyperventilating), and chest pains.

Although the exact cause of panic disorder is unknown, there are a number of triggers. These include becoming overwhelmed by the challenges of modern life that may lead to chronic stress, and when left unalleviated or untreated, could lead to frequent panic attacks; a traumatic experience, such as the loss of a loved one or divorce; depression; substance abuse; serious illness; a hereditary predisposition to panic or an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain; drinking too much caffeine or taking appetite suppressants.

Panic disorders are twice as common in women than in men. Women typically experience panic episodes in their early twenties, whereas men experience it in their forties. The average panic attack lasts between 4-20 minutes but could endure for up to an hour. It affects people of all ages and backgrounds.

People with panic disorder often misuse alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism. Furthermore, up to 20% try to end their life. While sufferers may feel hopeless, there is help. Panic disorder is a highly treatable condition, and with the right therapy, 90% of people recover fully, while the remaining 10% experience significant recovery.

If you think you may suffer from panic disorder, schedule a consultation with your GP, who will be able to diagnose it properly and rule out any underlying disease as a possible cause. They are likely to prescribe talk therapy as well as medicine; however, your treatment will depend on your symptoms.

Techniques to stave off a panic attack


  1. Don’t fight it or try to run away. Stay put and focus on the present, being mindful of where you are.
  2. Close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply through your nose until your chest is full of air, then exhale slowly through your mouth, and repeat.
  3. Remind yourself that it will pass.
  4. Focus on a positive or peaceful/relaxing memory or an object in clear sight, and note everything about it.
  5. Repeat a reassuring mantra and remind yourself that it’s not life-threatening and that you’ll be okay.


The more information you have on panic disorder, the better you will understand the likely causes and gain skills and strategies to help you cope. Regular exercise to ease stress, following a healthy diet (low in sugar), and avoiding caffeine, smoking, and alcohol – as these often worsen panic attacks – are all things you can do to manage the disorder.

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These articles are for information purposes only. It cannot replace the diagnosis of a healthcare provider. Pharma Dynamics gives no warranty as to the accuracy of the information contained in such articles and shall not, under any circumstances, be liable for any consequences which may be suffered as a result of a user’s reliance thereon.

The information the reader is about to be referred to may not comply with the South Africa regulatory requirements. Information relevant to the South African environment is available from the Company and in the Professional Information/Patient Information Leaflet/Instructions for Use approved by the Regulatory Authority.

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