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Understanding Panic Attacks -- Treatment

What Are the Treatments for Panic Attacks?

The cause of most panic attacks is not clear, so treatment may be different for each person. Medication is used for prevention and/or immediate alleviation of symptoms and is usually the main line of treatment. In addition, psychotherapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, relaxation, and/or meditation are often used to help relax the body and relieve anxiety.

If you're in the middle of a panic attack, immediate relief of anxiety symptoms can come from taking a sedative type anti-anxiety medication such as Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan. These drugs are provided at least in the beginning of medical therapy, but are not for long-term use.

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Certain antidepressants can help prevent anxiety and reduce the frequency and severity of panic attacks, but are not used for immediate relief during an attack. Frequently used antidepressants are the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac, Paxil, Celexa, Lexapro, and Zoloft. This group of medications is often considered the first line of treatment for panic disorders.

Some newer anticonvulsant drugs, such as Lyrica and Neurontin, have also begun to show value in research studies as experimental treatments for some anxiety disorders, including panic disorder.

Important note regarding medications:Some of these drugs can actually produce the anxiety symptoms of a panic attack. It is often best to start with a low dose and slowly increase medication as recommended by your health care provider.

For preventive or maintenance care, psychotherapy offers support and helps minimize fear. In some cases, psychotherapy alone can clear up the disorder. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps people learn to deal with panic symptoms, using techniques like muscle and breathing relaxation. Patients also gain reassurance that panic will not lead to the catastrophic events they fear, since many people fear they are having a heart attack or going crazy.   

How Can I Prevent Panic Attacks?

You can take steps to lessen the chance of having panic attacks and learn to manage them better. Here are some tips:

  • Take your time. It's important not to hope for a quick cure. Therapy takes time, and improvement comes in small steps.  
  • Go easy on yourself. People who feel panic tend to be overly critical of themselves.  
  • Learn to lower your level of everyday anxiety through a variety of techniques, including meditation and exercise.
  • Learn other relaxation techniques, like deep breathing or guided imagery.
  • Avoid stimulants, such as nicotine and caffeine, which can be found not only in coffee, but many teas, colas, and chocolate.

Learn to recognize a panic attack. When you sense the first symptoms, know that other symptoms may follow. Take slow, deep breaths. Remember, you have survived them before and can do so again.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on April 12, 2014

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