Physical Symptoms of Panic Disorder

Updated on June 21, 2017
Virginia Matteo profile image

Virginia is a university student. She's been battling social anxiety all her life, and about a year ago she developed panic disorder.

Anxiety sometimes causes a range of physical ailments, which might be quite scary. Worrying about the symptoms leads to more anxiety and panic attacks, which, in turn, tend to worsen the physical side of panic disorder. For many people it is hard to break free from this vicious circle.

During my very first panic attack I was sure I had a heart attack (a very frequent assumption among people in a similar situation), and a couple of days later when my hands trembled slightly I managed to convince myself that I suffered from a neurodegenerative disease. If you have anxiety disorders, it is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking there is something seriously wrong with your health.

And no wonder; everything seems to indicate that. To make things worse, people with anxiety disorders are more tuned to the changes in their body. So it may be that a largely worry-free person notices briefly this muscle tremble or that stomach cramp and carry on living without paying much attention to it. But people who suffer from anxiety can’t take any minor health issue off their minds so easily, oftentimes blowing it out of proportion, worrying about it and making things worse.

So if you suffer from any physical symptoms due to panic disorder, my advice is go to a doctor. You are most likely fine but the truth is that many panic disorder symptoms overlap with some more serious health problems, which might cause you genuine distress. Only a health professional can give you the assurance you need to worry less and start battling the anxiety.

Here is a list of some symptoms that people with panic disorder frequently suffer from:

Heart Palpitations, Chest Pain, Chest Tightness

All heart-related issues are scary. Even though chest pain can have many different underlying causes such as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, the first thing that springs to mind is a heart attack or cardiovascular disease. Panic attacks in particular can resemble a heart attack. The overlapping symptoms include chest pain or chest tightness, shortness of breath or perceived breathing difficulties, sweatiness. The important distinction between the two is that during a heart attack the pain tends to radiate to the arms and jaw. However, sometimes it still may not be easy to tell the one from the other on your own. This is why if are experiencing a particularly acute chest pain that doesn’t want to go away after a while don’t risk it – call an ambulance. Doctors are trained to differentiate between a panic and heart attack and will be able to help you in either case.

Sometimes chest problems persist even when you don’t have a panic attack at the moment. You may notice that you experience chest pain during exercising or after drinking too much coffee, which itself may trigger an anxiety attack. It’s always a good idea to have it checked by your doctor who can assure you that it’s not related to any cardiovascular problems. I know from experience that chest pain during exercising can be terrifying. But I also know that it can be overcome with time and patience. The crucial thing is to take it slowly and take breaks whenever your body tells you so. Setting small goals is key to getting rid of the chest pain completely.

Muscle Trembling, Muscle Tension

It is very common to shiver during a panic attack. The reason behind it is the muscles being pumped with adrenaline in preparation for flight or fight. People affected with panic disorder may also notice muscle trembling when they’re not having an anxiety attack. In some cases the symptoms are so severe that they are mistakenly attributed to Huntington’s or Parkinson’s Disease. Chances are you suffer from neither, but only a doctor can tell it with any degree of certainty. Do discuss your problems with a health professional if you find that the symptoms heavily impact your life, or worsen your panic disorder.

Stomach Cramps, Digestive Problems, Urinating Problems

An increased level of stress causes more acid to be released to the digestive system. Healthy people also sometimes experience stomach cramps before stressful events such as exams or job interviews. However, people suffering from panic disorder are at risk of chronic stomach problems, as they are exposed to higher levels of stress on a daily basis. You may suffer from indigestion, diarrhea or constipation. If left untreated, anxiety may even cause stomach ulcers. If you have been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety may worsen the symptoms.

Another frequent problem is an urge to urinate more often. It may become a real nuisance while travelling, or in any situation you don’t have constant access to the bathroom. One way of remedying it is to add a bit more salt to your diet. With moderation, however. Remember to always stay within the healthy limits of salt consumption.

Tinnitus

Tinnitus is hearing sounds in your ears such as ringing, buzzing, humming, hissing. You may experience it only during panic attacks, or it may be a long-term issue. It may affect only one of the ears, or both, or it may fluctuate. It may come and go or be constantly present. It is important to visit a doctor if it occurs persistently, as it may be a sign of some serious ear disease, such as Ménière's disease, a middle ear infection, or otosclerosis. Especially visit a specialist if you experience other symptoms such as pain in the ear or vertigo.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of all symptoms that anxiety may cause. Anxiety is a complex disorder that changes the whole workings of the body, so you may experience a range of symptoms not described here. As a rule of thumb, discuss every new symptom with a doctor or with your therapist.

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