Updated 31 January 2020

Fast facts about panic disorder

Panic disorder is a relatively common anxiety disorder although most of us don't know much about it. These are the fast facts you should know when it comes to panic...

You or someone you know may recently have been diagnosed with panic disorder. Panic disorder is a fairly common anxiety disorder but it is poorly understood by most people. These are the important facts you need to know:

- 2-4% of the South African population will suffer from panic disorder at some point in their lives.

- Panic is twice as common in women as it is in men. For women, the average age of onset is during their early twenties, whilst for men it is often later.

- The average length of a panic attack is 4 - 6 minutes.

- Recent research shows that there is a strong genetic or hereditary component that predisposes people to panic. Attacks can be triggered by stressful life events or occur “out of the blue”.

- Before panic disorder is diagnosed a medical examination should be carried out to exclude other medical conditions.

- Panic disorder is frequently misdiagnosed as a thyroid problem, hypoglycaemia or a heart valve problem.

- Up to 30% of people with panic disorder misuse/abuse alcohol, 17% abuse drugs, and up to 20% attempt to commit suicide.

- Whilst panic disorder typically occurs in adults between the ages of 20 and 40 years, it can also affect children and the elderly. Panic affects people of all races and classes.

- Homeopathic treatments, for example, St. Johns Wort, Rescue Remedy and acupuncture are being researched to assess their help for treating panic disorder.

- Caffeine, cold and flu medications, Lariam (anti-malarial drug), appetite suppressants and local anaesthetics such as dental injections containing adrenaline may trigger panic attacks.

- Between 50% and 75% of people with panic will avoid certain places and activities. This can lead to social impairment, greater than that of major depression.

- Before receiving a diagnosis of panic, South Africans will on average visit eleven doctors and spend over R20 000 on medical investigations.

- Treatment (usually) includes a combination of medication, psychotherapy and self-help (for example, reading, support groups, or relaxation techniques).

- Antidepressant medications and benzodiazepine are usually used to treat panic.

The good news: Panic disorder is a highly treatable condition. With the right combinations of therapy, 90% of people recover greatly. The remaining 10% can experience significant recovery.

Help is available, SADAG offers telephonic counseling to people with panic disorder and members of their family. There are support groups running throughout the country. Call on (011) 262 6396 or 0800 20 50 26

Visit or for more info and to learn how you can cope with panic and anxiety.

Read more:

What causes panic attacks?

Dealing with panic attacks

Relaxation techniques for panic disorder

Image: The sad girl from Shutterstock


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