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How Is Panic Disorder Diagnosed?
The process of diagnosing panic disorder begins with a physical assessment followed by a psychological assessment. Because the symptoms of panic attacks are often overtly physical, it is important to rule out other medical conditions that could be causing the symptoms. Only after these potential physical conditions have been ruled out will the diagnostic process move on to possible psychological causes.
Diagnostic steps may include:
- A physical exam. This exam will be aimed at ruling out physical conditions that could be causing the symptoms.
- Blood and laboratory tests. These tests will look at the patient’s blood chemistry for issues such as thyroid function, electrolyte imbalances, anemia, chronic infection, and cancer. Screenings for drugs and alcohol may also be conducted to rule out symptoms that may be caused by substance abuse. An electrocardiogram (ECG) may also be administered to check for problems with heart function.
- Psychological assessments. These assessments may take the form of questionnaires or talk sessions with a mental health professional to assess the patient’s mood, mental state, and mental health history. Family members or caregivers may also be asked to participate in these assessments.
The results of the psychological assessments will be compared to the diagnostic criteria for panic disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. A mental health professional will look for these indications of panic disorder:
- Recurrent and unexpected panic attacks, followed by at least a month of one or more of the following:
- Persistent worry about the occurrence of another attack
- Worry about the consequences of an attack
- Significant change in behavior as a result of the attacks
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