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Anxiety disorders are common and most people suffer from them at one time or another in their lives. They can take the form of generalised anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias or panic attacks.

Panic disorder is characterized by periodic attacks of anxiety or terror usually lasting between 15 and 30 minutes. After effects may persist for much longer.

During a panic attack a person feels intense fear or discomfort with at least four or more of the following symptoms:

rapid heart beat
shortness of breath
a choking feeling
feelings of unreality
either hot flashes or chills
chest pain, fear of dying
fear of going insane.

A diagnosis of panic disorder is made when a person experiences at least two recurrent, unexpected panic attacks followed by at least one month of fear that another will occur. Frequency of attacks can vary widely. Some people have frequent attacks that occur for months while others may have clusters of daily attacks followed by week or months of remission.

Panic attacks that include only one or two symptoms are known as limited-symptom attacks and these may be either residual symptoms after a major panic attack or precursors to full-blown attacks. Panic attacks occur with other anxiety disorders or on their own.