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Panic disorder is characterized by periodic attacks of anxiety or terror (panic attacks). Panic attacks usually last 15 - 30 minutes, although residual effects can persist much longer.

Panic attacks can occur in nearly every anxiety disorder, not just panic disorder. In other anxiety disorders, however, there is always a cue or specific trigger for the attack. A diagnosis of panic disorder is made under the following conditions:

- A person experiences at least two recurrent, unexpected panic attacks.

- For at least a month following the attacks, the person fears that another will occur.

Symptoms of a Panic Attack. During a panic attack a person feels intense fear or discomfort and experiences at least four or more of the following symptoms:

- Rapid heart beat
- Sweating
- Shakiness
- Shortness of breath
- A choking feeling or a feeling of being smothered
- Dizziness
- Nausea
- Feelings of unreality
- Numbness
- Either hot flashes or chills
- Chest pain
- A fear of dying
- A fear of going insane

Women may be more likely than men to experience shortness of breath, nausea, and feelings of being smothered. Men may be more likely than women to have sweating and abdominal pain. Panic attacks that include only one or two symptoms, such as dizziness and heart pounding, are known as limited-symptom attacks. These may be either residual symptoms after a major panic attack or precursors to full-blown attacks.

Frequency of Panic Attacks. Frequency of attacks can vary widely. Some people have frequent attacks (for example, every week) that occur for months; others may have clusters of daily attacks followed by weeks or months of remission.

Triggers of Panic Attacks. Panic attacks may occur spontaneously or in response to a particular situation. Recalling or re-experiencing even harmless circumstances that accompanied an earlier attack may trigger subsequent panic attacks.

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