Treatment of Panic Disorder
Panic disorder is a disabling condition consisting of panic episodes that begin without warning, lasting a few minutes to half an hour or even longer. Not knowing when these panic attacks might hit can keep the sufferer from enjoying life, as they avoid activities or situations that have triggered the panic attacks in the past.
Typically, panic disorder and the associated attacks affect more women than men, and the disorder comes on in young adulthood. Untreated, panic disorder can lead to more severe conditions, such as agoraphobia. Symptoms of panic attacks include:
- shortness of breath
- heart palpitations
- hot flashes
- chest pain
- throat tightness and trouble swallowing
although everyone who suffers from panic attacks feels different during one.
Panic disorder treatment usually involves a combination of 3 modalities – education, medication and psychotherapy.
Therapy and education
A panic attack sufferer will typically meet one-on-one with a trained therapist on a short-term basis, usually for 12 sessions or fewer. The first psychotherapy session will generally center on educating the patient about the disorder. During these sessions, a patient will learn more about the disorder and how to prevent and cope with attacks more effectively. By being able to recognize the symptoms of a panic attack and the reasons behind the symptoms, a panic attack can be made significantly shorter and less severe. When the onset of a panic attack is felt, utilizing techniques such as controlled breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can keep it from getting worse.
Patients and therapists will also discuss the patient’s irrational fears he or she experiences during an attack, usually of embarrassing themselves or of dying or passing out. This helps the patient see that these fears are not valid, further diffusing the intensity of an attack. It may also be recommended that a patient gradually expose themselves to the object or situation that triggers the attacks to enable them to gain control little by little.
The last facet of panic disorder treatment is medication. It is not always necessary to use medication, and it should be avoided if possible due to their negative side effects and their potential for addiction or dependence. However, in the event that therapy and education are not enough, benzodiazepines (ie, Xanax, Klonopin, Valium) and SSRI anti-depressants (ie, Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil) are the most commonly prescribed medications. Most doctors will hesitate to prescribe medication without therapy, as medication treats only the symptoms, while therapy treats the underlying cause of the panic disorder.
There are also some self-help techniques that can be utilized without the help of a trained professional. There may be support groups within a patient’s community or online that can offer help with panic disorder treatment, connecting people through shared experiences and feelings, while also allowing a discussion of possible treatment methods. Also, getting regular massages or acupuncture can help manage stress and reduce the occurrence of panic attacks.
Panic disorder treatment can be very effective in reducing the intensity and frequency of panic attacks. By meeting with a therapist, becoming educated about the condition, talking to others with the disorder and taking medication if needed, panic attacks need not interfere with daily life.