Panic Disorder in Fibromyalgia

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Recognizing, Treating, and Living with Panic Disorder

Panic attacks and fibromyalgia

No one told me that my panic attacks and fibromyalgia could stop my body from functioning. I had not been told that the pain from one would overlap with the other and, seemingly, short circuit my brain. I hadn’t realized anyone could be in that much pain until it happened.

For me, fibromyalgia also means anxiety and panic attacks. I don’t talk about them a lot as I don’t want to worry my loved ones. When they start, I feel hot and my chest feels tight. From there it escalates into a full-on head-spinning, heart-pounding, chest-squashing nightmare. I sweat, hyperventilate, shake and sometimes cry uncontrollably.

All this time I’m thinking, “I can’t breathe,” which is ironic because I’m actually breathing more and faster than is normal. It’s terrifying and it brings with it a huge black cloud of dread that just sits in my abdomen for reasons unknown to me.

Panic Disorder

Do you ever get a sudden, intense rush of fear? Have you ever experienced a sudden sweating in your hands, numbness radiating across your chest, and a feeling like something really bad is about to happen? If so, you may have experienced a panic attack. Panic attacks are basically what the name suggests.

They’re intense episodes of panic that come on suddenly and result in uncontrollable anxiety. They also lead to physical symptoms like sweaty palms, a pounding heart rate, and light-headedness. A lot of people suffer from one every now and then, but if you’re experiencing them frequently, then the odds are good that you have panic disorder, which causes recurrent and frequent panic attacks.

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Flight or fight response

We don’t know what causes panic disorder, but there are a few things that definitely seem to make it worse like smoking, drug use, and chronic stress. And some researchers have suggested that the cause could be our “flight or fight response.” Basically, when you’re in danger, your body pumps out adrenaline and prepare to either fight or run. But when you have a panic attack, your body triggers this response for no real reason and you struggle with the effects.

Impact of panic disorder on your life

Panic disorder can be debilitating and have a major impact on your life. It can make you afraid of every-day situations like going to work; strain your relationships; and cause you to avoid things that might trigger symptoms. When you add this to FMS and ME/CFS, which are debilitating on their own, the problems can compound each other.

Sometimes, symptoms are mild and don’t require treatment you just learn to deal with them. Other times, though, when more severe, they may be an overlapping condition such as panic disorder. If that’s the case you with, you’ll need proper diagnosis and treatment in order to stop being held captive by anxiety.

Worst things about panic attacks

One of the worst things about panic attacks is that a lot of anxiety actually comes from the attacks themselves. A panic attack is an intensely frightening experience. And the physical symptoms can be similar to a heart attack or other life-threatening condition.

So, you may even feel like you’re about to die in the middle of an attack. So, it’s easy to see how these attacks form a kind of feedback loop. You have an attack because you have anxiety, then you worry that you’re going to experience another attack, which increases that anxiety and makes you more likely to have another one. And when you have fibromyalgia, a condition that naturally leads to anxiety and stress, it can be even worse.

Symptoms of Panic Disorder

The primary symptoms of panic disorder are quite different from those of FMS and ME/CFS, so the conditions are generally easy to tell apart. Panic disorder can cause multiple physiological symptoms along with psychological ones. The conditions do have some similar symptoms, however, including gastrointestinal problems.

Also, some doctors say many of their patients with FMS and ME/CFS show signs of cognitive distortion and irrational beliefs. Learning about these symptoms may help you deal with multiple conditions.

Connections between panic disorder and Fibromyalgia

One of the thoughts you need to try to fight when you have anxiety is the belief that your physical symptoms are not anxiety at all, and are instead the result of some underlying health condition. This method of thinking can create more anxiety, which makes it much harder to treat and may cause more physical symptoms. Take my anxiety test to learn more about your anxiety.

Fibromyalgia is one of many conditions that cause this type of thinking. People feel pain, and they convince themselves that they don’t have anxiety, and instead may be suffering from multiple sclerosis or some other condition that is causing their physical symptoms, thus justifying their anxiety. The reality is that even fibromyalgia may be caused by anxiety.

Fibromyalgia is actually regarded as a symptom of some anxiety disorders, as well as other psychiatric disorders like depression.

Managing the Condition

There are a few antidepressant medications that doctors use to treat panic disorder. These drugs work by helping to balance the level of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and plays an important role in regulating our moods.

When your serotonin levels are low, you’re more likely to experience depression and anxiety. In addition, doctors can prescribe something called beta blockers. These drugs stop adrenaline from reaching the receptors in your brain and are good for stopping a panic attack quickly if you feel like you have one coming on.

But, medication is really only half of the treatment for panic disorder. It’s important to combine it with visits to a therapist. A good therapist can help you find ways to cope with your anxiety and work through the issues in your life that are stressing you out.


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