Complications of panic disorder

Panic disorder is a treatable condition. However, in order to make a full recovery, it is very important that you seek medical help as soon as possible.

This is because treatment for panic disorder is much more effective if it is given at an early stage.

If left undiagnosed and untreated, panic disorder can become a very debilitating and isolating illness. It can also increase your risk of developing other psychological conditions.

Agoraphobia and other phobias

Agoraphobia is a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult, or help wouldn’t be available if things go wrong.

If you have agoraphobia, leaving home, entering public places and travelling alone can cause you intense anxiety. Many people who have agoraphobia avoid everyday activities because of their phobia.

Agoraphobia is one of the conditions that can develop alongside panic disorder. People with panic disorder can develop agoraphobia because of their fear of having a panic attack in a public place.

You may worry that a panic attack in a public place will be embarrassing, or that you will have difficulty getting help if you need it. You may also worry about public places that you would have difficulty leaving (such as a train) if you were to have a panic attack.

If you have agoraphobia, it is likely that you will find it difficult to leave the house, particularly if you are not with a trusted family member or a friend.

If you have panic disorder, you may also develop other fears and phobias, which can often seem irrational. For example, you may start to worry that a particular object or action that triggers your attacks, and so become fearful of those things.


Panic disorder is more common in adolescents (teenagers) than in younger children.

Panic attacks can be particularly debilitating for children and young people. A severe case of panic disorder may affect their development and learning. The fear of having a panic attack may stop children from going to school and engaging in a social life. They may also find it difficult to concentrate on their schoolwork.

Diagnosing panic disorder in children is usually a case of taking a detailed medical history and carrying out a thorough physical examination in order to rule out any physical causes for the symptoms that your child is experiencing. Screening for other anxiety disorders may also be needed in order to determine what is causing your child’s panic attacks.

Panic attacks in children are often dramatic events, including screaming and weeping and an increased breathing rate (hyperventilation). If your child displays the signs and symptoms of panic disorder over a prolonged period of time, your GP may refer them to a specialist where they will be given a further assessment and treatment.

If it is recommended, your child may be given a course of psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Drug and alcohol misuse

Some studies have shown that conditions that cause intense anxiety, such as panic disorder, can also increase your risk of developing an alcohol or drug problem.

The side effects or withdrawal symptoms of both recreational (illegal) and prescribed (legal) drugs can increase the symptoms of anxiety.

Examples of legal drugs are:

  • caffeine
  • alcohol
  • cigarettes

Examples of illegal drugs are:

  • cannabis
  • cocaine
  • heroin

See the Health A-Z topics about Drug misuse and Alcohol misuse for more information about getting help and advice.

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