How Panic Disorder Is Treated

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Panic disorder is a mental health condition that causes repeated episodes of intense fear called panic attacks. Although the disorder is not life-threatening, it can interfere with the quality of your life. Treatment can help you manage the symptoms of panic disorder.

If you need treatment for panic disorder, your primary care physician may suggest you see a specialist, such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist for care. They may recommend a combination of treatment options that include prescriptions, therapies, and other options.

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Prescription Medications

Prescription medications can help with the symptoms of panic disorder, but they cannot cure the condition. You may start with one medication and switch to another one if it is not working for you, or your doctor may combine different prescriptions. Always discuss any concerns or side effects with your doctor.

The most common prescription medications for panic disorder are antianxiety and antidepressant drugs that include:

  • Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)  
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • Benzodiazepines 

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) include:

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Escitalopram (Lexapro)
  • Fluvoxamine (Luvox)

Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) include:

  • Cymbalta (Duloxetine)
  • Venlafaxine hydrochloride (Effexor XR)

Benzodiazepines include:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax) 
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)

Therapies

Psychotherapy or talk therapy is a common treatment for panic disorder. It involves talking to a therapist about your panic attacks and learning how to manage them. You may need a combination of talk therapy and prescription medications to handle your symptoms.

Types of psychotherapy include:

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT): It focuses on helping you identify, challenge, and modify dysfunctional ideas related to panic symptoms.
  • Exposure therapy: Exposure techniques are often a component of CBT that challenges avoidance of situations and bodily sensations that might cue panic.

Complementary and Alternative Treatments

Although you can find information about alternative treatments on your own, it is important to discuss them with your doctor before trying them. Some supplements and herbs can interfere with your prescription medications and can cause serious side effects. Consult with your doctor before trying an alternative treatment for panic disorder.

Alternative treatments include:

  • St. John's wort
  • Kava extract
  • Lavender oil
  • Valerian 

Even herbs and supplements can have side effects, so talk to your doctor. 

Lifestyle

You can make certain lifestyle changes that can help you manage panic disorder. Make sure you discuss any drastic changes with a doctor first.

Relaxation Techniques 

Learning different relaxation techniques may help you cope with the symptoms of panic attacks. For example, mindfulness meditation and breathing exercises can help you relax. These techniques can make it easier to stay calm during stressful situations. 

Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, and Nicotine 

Caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine can aggravate your symptoms. They can also be addictive and difficult to quit. Talk to your doctor if you need help quitting these substances. 

Stress Management 

Stress can affect both your mental and physical health. It is important to learn how to manage stress properly because it has an impact on panic disorder.

Your coping techniques for stress will be personal, but they should still be healthy options such as yoga, listening to music, or getting a massage. 

Support Groups 

Support groups for panic disorder can help you connect with other people who are dealing with the same condition. They can offer advice and sympathy during meetings. Ask your doctor about local groups or look online for support. 

A Word From Verywell

It is normal to feel embarrassed or scared to seek treatment for panic disorder. However, taking the first step by talking to your doctor is important. By having an open and honest conversation about your condition, you can find treatment. 

Prescription medications for panic disorder can have side effects. You should discuss them with your doctor and make sure you understand what to expect. If the medications are having a serious impact on the quality of your life, your doctor may be able to change them.  

It may take time to discover the right treatment plan for you. A doctor may recommend different medications or therapies throughout the process, and you may need to make changes. You will want to stay flexible and to ask questions if you have concerns.  

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Article Sources
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  3. National Institute of Mental Health. Panic disorder: when fear overwhelms. Updated 2016.