Panic disorder Describes a cluster of symptoms that include intense fear, racing heart palpitations, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, numbness or feelings of impending doom. Panic disorder affects about 2.5% of the population at some point in their life. Onset of symptoms may occur within minutes. The exact cause of panic disorder is unknown. Biological factors in concert with social factors such as chronic stress and adverse life experiences may predispose people to anxiety and panic. Medication and counseling are the evidence-based treatments for panic disorder.