Conditions & Treatments

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is characterized by chronic, repeated, and unexpected panic attacks - bouts of overwhelming fear of being in danger when there is no specific cause for the fear

Panic Disorder

What is panic disorder?

Panic disorder is characterized by chronic, repeated, and unexpected panic attacks—bouts of overwhelming fear of being in danger when there is no specific cause for the fear. In between panic attacks, people with panic disorder worry excessively about when and where the next attack may occur.

What are the characteristics of a panic attack?

Panic attacks can accompany several types of anxiety disorders—not only panic disorder. The following are the most common symptoms of a panic attack. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Pounding heart

  • Sweating

  • Trembling or shaking

  • Shortness of breath

  • Sensation of choking

  • Nausea or abdominal pain

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

  • Feeling unreal or disconnected from oneself

  • Fear of losing control

  • Fear of "going crazy" or dying

  • Numbness

  • Chills or hot flashes

  • Physical symptoms that mimic a heart attack and/or chest pain

Panic disorder can be distressing and disabling. The rate of irritable bowel syndrome is higher among people with panic disorder than among the general population. Alcohol may be abused as a means to relieve stress.

The symptoms of a panic attack may resemble other psychiatric conditions. Always see your health care provider for a diagnosis.

Who is affected by panic disorder?

Panic disorder typically first occurs in late adolescence or early adulthood, but may also begin in childhood. Women are twice as likely as men to experience this disorder, and some people may be genetically predisposed to the disorder. About 6 million Americans suffer from panic disorder.

Treatment for panic disorder

Specific treatment for panic disorder will be determined by your health care provider based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the disease

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the disease

  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Medication

  • Psychological treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy

Treatment Programs


Massachusetts General Hospital understands that a variety of factors influence patients' health care decisions. That's just one reason why we're dedicated to ensuring patients understand their diagnosis and treatment options. Because a single option might not serve all patients, we offer a wide range of coordinated treatments and related services across the hospital. Patients should consult with their primary care doctor or other qualified health care provider for medical advice and diagnosis information.

Select a treatment program for more information:



MassGeneral Hospital for Children

  • Psychology Assessment Center
    The pediatric neuropsychology specialists at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Psychology Assessment Center provide neuropsychological assessments to aid in the diagnosis and treatment of neurological, medical, genetic and developmental disorders.
Department of Neurology

  • Cognitive Behavioral Neurology Unit
    The Cognitive Behavioral Neurology Unit offers diagnosis and treatment to patients with disorders and diseases of the brain affecting language, memory, problem solving, emotional function and behavior.
Obstetrics and Gynecology

  • Midlife Women's Health Center
    The Massachusetts General Hospital Midlife Women’s Health Center brings together experts from more than 15 specialties to improve, promote and advance health care for women at menopause and beyond through research, collaboration and education.
Benson Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine

  • Consultation
    Come in for a consultation, leave with a comprehensive mind body treatment plan that addresses your stress-related medical condition.
  • Relaxation Response Resiliency Program (3RP)
    Designed to give patients a variety of mind body skills and interventions to decrease medical symptoms and build resilience.

View all departments

Departments and Centers at Mass General have a reputation for excellence in patient care. View a list of all departments.