A Panic Attack is a discrete period of intense fear or discomfort that develops abruptly and reached a peak within 10 minutes.
How is it diagnosed?

To qualify as a Panic Attack 4 or more of the following must be present: palpitations, pounding heart or accelerated heart rate, dizziness, unsteady, lightheaded or faint, sweating, choking, trembling or shaking, breathlessness, chest pain or discomfort, nausea or abdominal distress, feeling detached from oneself (depersonalised), derealisation (feelings of unreality), fear of losing control, fear of dying, paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations), chills or hot flushes.

To qualify for a diagnosis of Panic Disorder both (1) and (2) must be present:
(1) recurrent unexpected Panic Attacks
(2) at least one of the attacks has been followed by 1 month (or more) of one (or more) of the following:
  • Persistent concern about having additional attacks.
  • Worry about the implications of the attack or its consequences (e.g., losing control).
  • A significant change in behavior related to the attacks.
  • The Panic Attacks are not due to the effects of a drug or a general medical condition.
  • The Panic Attacks are not better accounted for by another mental disorder.

Where and when can panic attacks occur?

Panic attacks can be spontaneous in that they can occur unexpectedly or situational in that they tend to occur in the same situations such as a large supermarket, driving on a motorway or places from which escape is difficult or the potential exists for embarrassment. Panic attacks can also occur nocturnally in which case the individual wakes in a state of intense anxiety.

Panic and Agoraphobia

Panic Disorder is intimately related to agoraphobia but not all agoraphobics have panic attacks or meet the diagnosis for panic disorder. Panic attacks cause agoraphobic avoidance in that people will naturally tend to avoid situations in which they fear they might have another panic attack.


Panic if left untreated will get worse and can lead to a highly restricted lifestyle.

Good news

The good news is that Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder is one of the most successful of Cognitive Behavioural Treatments. A 2010 study found that over 80% of those treated with CBT achieved clinically significant improvements and crucially the improvement was durable. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends 7-14 Hours of CBT for Panic Disorder.

What to do...

If you suffer from, or know someone who suffers from panic attacks or panic disorder get them into a CBT treatment programme.They will thank you for it.