Postpartum Anxiety and/or Panic Disorder

Though it is not very well known or commonly spoken of, postpartum anxiety and/or panic disorder affects between 4% and 6% of women in the postpartum period. Women may suffer from either of these disorders alone, together, or in conjunction with postpartum depression.

What is Postpartum Anxiety and Panic Disorder?
It is very normal for new mothers to worry about their baby and the responsibilities that accompany this little person. However, women affected by a postpartum anxiety and/or panic disorder experience excessive worries and fears regarding their child as well as their own actions. This postpartum mood disorder can cause women to suffer from debilitating panic attacks, experience overwhelming anxiety, and possibly even agoraphobia (an abnormal fear of open or public spaces).

What distinguishes this disorder from regular anxiety and panic disorders is the fact that it is triggered and occurs during the postpartum period. Experiencing a panic attack can be terrifying and can strike at any time and without warning. Many women feel especially nervous, agitated, apprehensive and tense because they fear another attack. However, it is important to note that having just one panic attack does not mean you suffer from postpartum anxiety and/or panic disorder.

Reason Behind The Disorder
Experts aren’t sure exactly why postpartum anxiety and/or panic disorder occurs in some women. Some feel that it is caused by the additional activity in the noradrenergic and serotenergic systems in the brain. This leads to greater neurotransmitter activity, which can act as a trigger for panic attacks.

Others argue that some women just have a genetic disposition to developing the disorder. Another theory reasons that the anxiety may be learned behavior, which develops into something more consuming when a person is placed under great stress.

Symptoms of Postpartum Anxiety and/or Panic Disorder
Onset of the disorder may occur within the first few days after birth or come on more gradually during the first year after birth. Women who suffer from this disorder tend to exhibit the following behavior:

  • Trouble concentrating and remembering things
  • Difficulties finishing everyday tasks
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Difficulty relaxing
  • Insomnia
  • Exhaustion
  • Feelings of extreme uneasiness for prolonged periods of time
  • Loss of appetite
  • Possible suicidal thoughts
  • Anxiety/panic attacks

Signs of a panic attack include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling of being choked or smothered
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Heart palpitations or increased heart rate
  • Hot flashes or chills
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Tingling sensation
  • Feeling faint, dizzy, lightheaded or unsteady
  • Nausea or stomach upset
  • Depersonalization (feeling removed or disoriented from the world)
  • Fear of going crazy or doing something uncontrolled
  • Sense of impending doom or death

At least four of these 14 symptoms will be present during a panic attack.

Who’s At Risk
Women who have a past history of anxiety or panic attacks are more likely to develop the postpartum disorder. Additionally, those with a family history of anxiety and/or panic disorders have an increased risk of developing postpartum anxiety and/or panic disorder.

Getting Help
It is important that women suffering from this disorder seek medical help. Left untreated, the disorder can affect a woman’s relationship with her child as well as her ability to cope. However, with the proper treatment, many women are able to overcome this postpartum mood disorder and lead happy lives.

The typical course of treatment for a woman who has been diagnosed with postpartum anxiety and/or panic disorder is medication. Antianxiety or antipanic drugs have been found to be very helpful in managing the disorder. However, psychological counseling can also be extremely helpful for many women. In some cases, counseling alone may be enough to help a woman with the disorder.

Some women who have obsessive thoughts about their baby and are doing some tasks repetitively may be actually experiencing postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder.

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