Panic disorder: How it’s treated

How is panic disorder treated?

To get help for panic attacks, first talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Your healthcare provider should do an exam to make sure that another physical problem isn’t causing the symptoms. He or she may then refer you to a mental health specialist.

Panic disorder is generally treated with psychotherapy, medication, or both.

woman-doctor-mental-health-helpPsychotherapy: A type of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is especially useful for treating panic disorder. Your doctor should do an exam to make sure that an unrelated physical issue isn’t causing the symptoms.

Medication: Doctors also may prescribe medication to help treat panic disorder. The most commonly prescribed medications for panic disorder are anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants. Anti-anxiety medications are powerful and there are different types. Many types begin working right away, but they generally should not be taken for long periods.

About medicines for panic disorder

Antidepressants are used to treat depression, but they also are helpful for panic disorder.

They may take several weeks to start working. Some of these medications may cause side effects such as headache, nausea, or difficulty sleeping. These side effects are usually not a problem for most people, especially if the dose starts off low and is increased slowly over time. Talk to your doctor about any side effects you may have.

It’s important to know that although antidepressants can be safe and effective for many people, they may be risky for some, especially children, teens, and young adults.

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A “black box” — the most serious type of warning that a prescription drug can have — has been added to the labels of antidepressant medications. These labels warn people that antidepressants may cause some people to have suicidal thoughts or make suicide attempts. Anyone taking antidepressants should be monitored closely, especially when they first start treatment with medications.

Another type of medication called beta-blockers can help control some of the physical symptoms of panic disorder such as excessive sweating, a pounding heart, or dizziness. Although beta blockers are not commonly prescribed, they may be helpful in certain situations that bring on a panic attack.

Treatment plans vary

Some people do better with CBT, while others do better with medication — and still others do best with a combination of the two. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment for you.

Early treatment can often prevent agoraphobia, but people with panic disorder may sometimes go from doctor to doctor for years and visit the emergency room repeatedly before someone correctly diagnoses their condition. This is unfortunate, because panic disorder is one of the most treatable of all the anxiety disorders, responding in most cases to certain kinds of medication or certain kinds of cognitive psychotherapy, which help change thinking patterns that lead to fear and anxiety.

What causes panic disorder?

Panic disorder sometimes runs in families, but no one knows for sure why some people have it, while others don’t.

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Some studies have suggested that several parts of the brain are involved in fear and anxiety. Some researchers think that people with panic disorder misinterpret harmless bodily sensations as threats. Research teams are also looking for ways in which stress and environmental factors may play a role.

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