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Panic Disorder

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How Common Is Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder affects about 2.4 million adult Americans. Panic disorder most often begins during late adolescence and early adulthood. It is twice as common in women as in men.

How Is Panic Disorder Diagnosed?

If symptoms of panic disorder are present, the doctor will begin an evaluation by performing a complete medical history and physical exam. Although there are no lab tests to specifically diagnose panic disorder, the doctor may use various tests to look for physical illness as the cause of symptoms.

If no physical illness is found, you may be referred to a psychiatrist or psychologist, mental health professionals who are specially trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses. Psychiatrists and psychologists use specially designed interview and assessment tools to evaluate a person for panic disorder.

The doctor bases his or her diagnosis on reported intensity and duration of symptoms, including the frequency of panic attacks, and the doctor's observation of the patient's attitude and behavior. The doctor then determines if the symptoms and degree of dysfunction suggest panic disorder.

How Is Panic Disorder Treated?

A combination of the following therapies is often used to treat panic disorder.

  • Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy (a type of counseling) addresses the emotional response to mental illness. It is a process in which trained mental health professionals help people by talking through strategies for understanding and dealing with their disorder.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. A type of psychotherapy that helps a person learn to recognize and change thought patterns and behaviors that lead to troublesome feelings. Therapy also aims to identify possibly triggers for panic attacks.
  • Medication. The anti-depressant drugs Paxil and Zoloft and anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax, Ativan, or Klonopin are used to treat panic disorders. Sometimes, heart medications (such as beta blockers) are used to help with anxiety.
  • Relaxation techniques.

Some people will respond well to treatment only to experience panic attacks later in life. When panic attacks continue after treatment has stopped, additional treatment may still help control and reduce panic attacks. In addition, relaxation techniques, such as breathing retraining and positive visualization, may help a person during an attack.

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