Panic attacks differ in severity and frequency. While all panic disorder is problematic, some people need immediate intervention while others may benefit more from moderate changes to their daily lifestyle.
But how do you - or doctors - know how severe your panic attack symptoms are? One method is known as the Panic Disorder Severity Scale, a valuable tool for assessing your panic attack severity.
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Take the Panic Attack Severity Scale
The Panic Attack Severity Scale is just one tool that can be used to assess the severity of your panic attacks. It is not the only option and not a replacement for formal diagnosis. You can also take my free anxiety test here which will give you a graph of your panic attack severity as well as what can be reasonably expected in the next 10 days.
Most people find their panic attacks fairly severe. But of course, there are those that get multiple, severe panic attacks every day along with other accompanying symptoms like agoraphobia, while others are generally able to function in life despite their panic. This indicates that there must be a significant difference in severity.
What is the PDSS?
The Panic Disorder Severity Scale, or PDSS, was developed by Dr. M. Katherine Shear. It's quickly become one of the most common severity scales used in clinical settings.
The scale is fairly simple. There are only 7 questions numbered, each one with 5 answers that can be worth a maximum of 4 points (using 0 to 4 for scoring). That leads to 28 total points possible with this scale. Any score over 9 is considered important enough to discuss with a clinical psychologist.
Each question is under copyright, so only trained clinicians with copyright access are allowed to use the scale. That's why you should take my free anxiety test if you want attempt to find a rating of your anxiety yourself. But the seven questions consist of questions about:
- Panic attack frequency.
- Panic attack distress.
- Anticipatory anxiety (anxiety over the idea of panic attacks).
- How often you avoid places because of panic attacks.
- How often you avoid feelings (like rapid heartbeat from exercise) because of panic.
- How often your panic attacks interfered with work or responsibilities.
- How often your panic attacks interfered with your social life.
In all cases, a score of zero means "none," while a score of 4 stands for "always" or "incapacitated by panic." You can give yourself a brief score by thinking of your own number on a scale of 0 to 4 with regard to the above issues. The higher the score, the more severe your panic attacks are considered.
Scores Are Not Everything
It should be noted that there are many types of panic attack severity scales, and that a lower score does not necessarily mean less severe panic attacks. For example, someone that doesn't avoid places but gets severe panic attacks multiple times a day may be suffering from severe panic attacks, but would still receive a lower score than someone that experiences fewer panic attacks but avoids work and social functions because of their panic.
But the Panic Disorder Severity Scale is still a valuable tool for formal assessment that is used in hospitals and clinical settings across the country. It's not a substitution for clinical assessment, nor is it a competition where someone with a lower score is necessarily experiencing less severe panic attacks, but the scale is still very useful for evaluating the severity of one's panic attacks quickly and easily.
I've helped many people cure their panic attacks. Start with my free 7 minute anxiety test now. It'll assess your symptoms and severity and provide a recommendation for treatment.
Houck, Patricia R., et al. Reliability of the self-report version of the Panic Disorder Severity Scale. Depression and Anxiety 15.4 (2002): 183-185.
Shear, M. Katherine, et al. Multicenter collaborative panic disorder severity scale. American Journal of Psychiatry 154.11 (1997): 1571-1575.
Argyle, Nicholas, et al. The Panic-Associated Symptom Scale: measuring the severity of panic disorder. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 83.1 (1991): 20-26.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.