Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

Panic Disorder. Is It a Matter of a Defective Gene?

Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

Panic Disorder. Is It a Matter of a Defective Gene?

Article excerpt

Q: How does panic disorder differ from other anxiety states?

A: The phobic personality has many fears, but they are specific. An individual who is afraid of heights can avoid getting into such situations. The sufferer with an elevator phobia can manage to stay out of them. There are people who become seriously anxious when near insects; it is a common anxiety and can be avoided. Panic disorder, however, does not react to a particular object. It overcomes its victim without apparent provocation.

Q: What are some physical symptoms of panic disorder?

A: The somatic symptoms are numerous and appear in varying combinations. Cardiac manifestations are common, including very rapid heartbeat rising to more than 140 beats a minute. Palpitations, along with sharp and sticking pains in the anterior chest wall to the left of the sternum, may cause intensified fright because of their similarity to symptoms of heart attacks.

Q: Sufferers of panic disorder sometimes complain of "air hunger." Are the lungs involved?

A: The feeling of breathlessness is not caused by insufficient lung functioning. Intense anxiety changes breathing patterns and becomes severe enough to cause sweating, chills, flushing of the face and queasiness in the stomach. Dizziness and lightheadedness are common.

Q: Can panic disorder cause digestive problems?

A: Heartburn, belching, diarrhea and constipation sometimes occur during a panic attack.

Q: Can aches and pains that seem chronic be caused by frequent panic attacks?

A: Chronic muscular tension may lead to musculoskeletal aches and pains, especially backache, shoulder pains, headaches and neck pains.

Q: How does the onset of a panic attack differ from the other anxiety neuroses?

A: The onset can be sudden with no warning; in others, the appearance of a generalized anxiety heralds the outbreak. Panic attacks may last for a few moments or can continue for several minutes, with waves of rising anxiety overwhelming the patient. As the episode fades, the individual is left exhausted and limp.

Every case is not the same. Intensity varies, as does frequency of attacks.

Q: If panic attacks cannot be treated successfully by nondrug therapy and the condition is considered the result of a defective gene, what are the biological processes?

A: Panic disorders have a biological and a psychodynamic component. The hypothalamic (the part of the brain that affects emotions) and autonomic nervous system functions (which controls the unconscious operation of the body's activities: blinking, breathing, swallowing, processing of food, some thinking processes) are widely related to anxiety. Overactivity in the limbic system of the brain can set off a series of reactions that trigger panic fears.

The fact that some medications lessen or often eliminate panic attacks is considered proof that the problem is genetically based. Various antidepressants are effective. A skilled physician, with experience in this particular specialty, would be qualified to prescribe and monitor a particular drug according to the patient's particular metabolism.

Q: Do sufferers of panic disorder also experience anxieties related to phobia neuroses?

A: Because panic disorders are generated internally, outside influences usually have no effect. Patients suffering from panic disorders seldom fear heights, open spaces, public places, animals, insects or other such forbidding objects.

Q: When is the usual age of onset?

A: The average age of onset is in the late 20s. …

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