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Panic attacks: what they are and what to do about them
Panic attacks: what they are and what to do about them

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1.2 Defining panic disorder

Now that you understand how panic attacks are formally defined, what about ‘panic disorder’? Panic disorder is when a person experiences recurrent unexpected panic attacks. Crucially, at least some of the panic attacks are experienced as happening ‘out of the blue’ and panic attacks can even occur when someone is asleep.

In panic disorder, the repeated experience of panic attacks seriously disrupt a person’s life, affecting their work, personal relationships and social life – in fact most areas of daily living. Often they live in fear of having more attacks, worry constantly about what the attacks are and what might happen as a result of them, and change how they live to try and avoid future attacks – e.g. by not going into public places. Unfortunately, fear of a panic attack may become such a focus of a person’s life that the fear itself impacts nearly all aspects of their quality of life.

In the next section you will find out more about the experience of panic disorder.