What is panic disorder and what are the signs?

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder characterised by recurrent and unexpected episodes of intense fear and discomfort, known as panic attacks. These panic attacks typically come on suddenly and reach their peak within minutes, causing a range of physical and psychological symptoms.

Common symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • Rapid heart rate or palpitations
  • Shortness of breath or a feeling of choking
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sweating
  • Feelings of impending doom or loss of control
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

Panic disorder goes beyond experiencing isolated panic attacks. It involves a pattern of recurrent panic attacks combined with persistent worry or fear of having more panic attacks in the future.

This fear can lead to significant changes in behaviour as individuals may begin to avoid situations or places where they fear a panic attack might occur. This avoidance behaviour can have a negative impact on their daily lives and activities, contributing to a reduced quality of life.

The exact causes of panic disorder are not fully understood, but it’s thought to result from a combination of genetic, neurological, psychological, and environmental factors. Traumatic events, significant life stressors, and changes in brain chemistry have also been associated with the development of panic disorder.



Panic disorder can be effectively treated through various approaches, including psychotherapy (such as cognitive-behavioural therapy), medication (like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or benzodiazepines), or a combination of both.

Treatment aims to alleviate the symptoms of panic attacks, help individuals manage their anxiety, and reduce the avoidance behaviours that often accompany panic disorder. Early intervention and appropriate treatment can greatly improve the quality of life for individuals with panic disorder. If you or someone you know is struggling with panic attacks or anxiety, it’s important to seek help from a qualified mental health professional.


What are the statistics on panic disorder UK?

In the UK, anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, are quite common. According to data from the Mental Health Foundation and other sources:

  • Prevalence: Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health disorders in the UK. It’s estimated that around 6% of the UK population experiences generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) in any given year. Panic disorder is a subset of anxiety disorders, and its prevalence can vary.
  • Gender Differences: In the UK, women are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, compared to men.
  • Age Range: Anxiety disorders can affect individuals of all ages, but they often start during adolescence or early adulthood.
  • Impact: Anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, can have a significant impact on individuals’ daily lives, relationships, work, and overall well-being.
  • Access to Treatment: Access to mental health services and treatment can vary in the UK. Many individuals with anxiety disorders do not receive appropriate treatment, which could include psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both.


Who to contact with panic disorder UK?

If you or someone you know is struggling with panic disorder in the UK and you’re seeking help, there are several avenues you can explore for support. Here are some options:

  • General Practitioner (GP): Your first point of contact should be your GP. They can provide an initial assessment, offer guidance, and refer you to appropriate mental health services or specialists if needed. They can also discuss treatment options such as therapy or medication.
  • NHS Mental Health Services: The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK offers various mental health services. You can access psychological therapies through the NHS Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) program. This might involve cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or other evidence-based treatments.
  • NHS 111: If you’re in need of urgent medical help or advice but it’s not a life-threatening emergency, you can call NHS 111. They can provide guidance on where to get help, including mental health support.
  • Charities and Helplines: Organizations like Mind, Samaritans, and Anxiety UK offer helplines, online resources, and support for individuals dealing with anxiety disorders, including panic disorder.
  • Mind: Call 0300 123 3393 or text 86463
  • Samaritans: Call 116 123
  • Anxiety UK: Call 03444 775 774
  • Online Resources: The NHS and various mental health organizations provide online resources and information about panic disorder, its symptoms, and treatment options. These resources can be useful for learning more about the condition and available support.
  • Private Therapists: If you’re seeking private therapy, you can find therapists who specialize in treating panic disorder. Websites like the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) or the British Psychological Society (BPS) have directories where you can search for accredited therapists.

Remember, reaching out for help is a positive step towards managing panic disorder and improving your well-being. Different individuals may find different approaches helpful, so it’s important to explore your options and find what works best for you. If you’re in crisis or need immediate assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out to emergency services or a helpline.