Culture and Panic Disorder

By Devon E. Hinton; Byron J. Good | Go to book overview

1
Introduction
Panic Disorder in Cross-Cultural and Historical Perspective

Byron J. Good and Devon E. Hinton

PANIC DISORDER (PD), as currently conceived, is a medical condition that may be diagnosed when a person experiences recurrent, unexpected attacks of panic or anxiety, followed by persistent concern about having additional attacks or about losing control, going crazy, or having a heart attack. Panic attacks are intense periods of fear or discomfort, feelings that sometimes seem quite irrational. They are described as “attacks” because they often develop rapidly and include such symptoms as palpitations, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, a feeling of choking, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, derealization or depersonalization, and numbness or chills or hot flushes, as well as fear of losing control or fear of dying.

PD, according to contemporary psychiatric classification, belongs to a group of neuropsychiatric conditions for which anxiety is the hallmark symptom. Although anxiety disorders are often thought of as relatively mild conditions, researchers estimate that in the United States these disorders account for 32 percent of the total economic costs of psychiatric illness, exceeding the costs associated with schizophrenia (21 percent) and mood disorders, including depression (22 percent) (Taylor 2000:4). Within the costs of panic attacks are emergency room visits and extensive medical tests to determine whether those experiencing the panic are suffering a heart attack or some other life-threatening condition as they fear. PD most commonly begins when the sufferer is between fifteen and thirty years of age. Studies suggest that between 1.5 and 3.5 percent of members of a population will suffer PD sometime during their lifetime.

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