What are Panic Attacks?
Panic attacks are sudden intense feelings of fear or anxiety caused by an imagined threat and are a symptom commonly experienced by those suffering from panic disorder. Panic disorders are one of several types of anxiety disorders. They are not a response to actual danger, but the body reacts the same as if there was imminent danger. People experiencing panic attacks may feel like they have a heart attack or that they are going to die. Even though the threat may be imaginary, all the symptoms are genuine and may cause marked limitations. Symptoms of panic attacks can include:
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Chills or hot flashes
- Shaking and trembling
- Nausea and cramping
- Feelings of impending doom or danger
Are Panic Attacks a Disability?
Panic attacks are often caused by a period of intense stress, and many people experience only a few panic attacks in their lifetime. Their panic attacks, triggered by an event, disappear when the event is over. Other people experience reoccurring panic attacks, which can cause extreme limitations and prevent them from experiencing their lives fully. These patients are said to have a panic disorder and may qualify for disability benefits.
Diagnosing Panic Attacks
Panic attacks are often diagnosed after a medical professional rules out other conditions. Because symptoms of a panic attack can look like other serious medical conditions, it is essential to rule out other conditions like heart attacks or adrenal issues. Once a physical cause is ruled out, the psychological reason is considered. Patients are often diagnosed by a mental health professional such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, mental health counselor, or social worker. Screening questionnaires are used to determine what conditions the patient may experience.
Treating Panic Attacks
Effective treatment of panic attacks depends on addressing both the symptoms and the cause. Most treatments are based on preventing panic attacks from developing. If the person has an untreated anxiety disorder, it is crucial to treat the anxiety to limit future panic attacks. Stress should be reduced, which can involve lifestyle changes. Avoiding stimulants, such as nicotine and caffeine, can also be helpful.
Treatment of panic attacks is often a combination of medications and talk therapy. Medications can limit the symptoms of the panic attack while talk therapy gives patients the coping skills needed to prevent the attack from occurring and dealing with the symptoms when it does. Medications such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) or benzodiazepines are commonly used to treat panic attacks. Identifying triggers, or things that can cause a psychological response, can prevent the feelings of panic and allow patients to learn how to live with those triggers. Some patients may not have specific triggers, but experience panic attacks that are seemingly random.
Untreated panic attacks can leave a person avoiding major life activities because of fear that an attack may occur. Isolation and loneliness are common. Self-medicating behaviors, such as alcohol abuse or addiction, can occur. This can lead to some patients self-harming or considering suicide as an option.
Disability Insurance Claims for Panic Attacks
Patients with panic attacks may have difficulties performing work activities due to their panic attacks and the related complications. Patients with disability insurance coverage may qualify for long term disability (LTD) benefits. It will be up to the insurance carrier to review the medical evidence in the claim and determine if the claimant meets the plan’s definition of disability.
Claimants who hope to receive disability benefits because of their panic attacks must prove to their insurer that they cannot perform their old job (under an “own occupation” standard) or any job that they could be trained to do (under an “any occupation” standard). To qualify for disability benefits, the claimant must satisfy the disability insurance policy’s definition of the term “disabled” or “totally disabled”.
Many people that experience panic attacks may not necessarily qualify for disability benefits if the severity of their condition does not significantly limit their life activities. Others may not be so fortunate as the severity of their panic attacks is much more severe.
One of the best ways to support an application for LTD benefits is to have the attending physician fill out a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) form that indicates how the claimant’s medical conditions and resulting symptoms and limitations affect and limit the claimant’s life activities.
Even if the person does not qualify for disability benefits for their panic attacks alone, they may be eligible under their other conditions or due to a combination of impairments. It is essential to consider and convey the entire health of the patient when applying for disability. If the panic attacks are caused by another psychological disorder, such as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, it is important to list the other disorders along with the panic attacks.
Working with a Disability Attorney
Working with an experienced disability attorney will give you the best chance of getting the benefits you deserve for your panic attacks. Even if you have been denied benefits, hope is not lost. Many people are denied benefits the first time they apply. The idea of going through the appeal process may be daunting, but a disability attorney will be able to guide you through the process. They do not get paid until you win your case. You can seek help without worrying about upfront costs or unexpected bills.
The Ortiz Law Firm has successfully represented people in disability cases across the United States. If you would like to talk to one of our experienced disability lawyers about your disability claim for panic attacks, call us today at (888) 321-8131. We look forward to speaking with you.