Panic Disorder

1 What is Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder?

A panic attack is an abrupt occurrence of intense fear, which triggers exaggerated reactions even without apparent cause. Panic attack usually is a very frightening experience to the person having the attack. When it occurs, you lose control of yourself and may think that something is going extremely wrong like you are having a heart attack or dying. For most people, panic attacks are often experienced for one or two instances in their whole lifetimes.

The problem and fear go away once the traumatic situation ends. However, if the attacks become recurrent and you have this constant fear you will have another attack, you may possibly have a panic disorder.

Panic attacks are not fatal at all, but they can change your quality of life significantly. 

2 Symptoms

Panic attacks usually have the following symptoms:

Panic attacks are not fatal, but they can be intensely uncomfortable. Nonetheless, panic attacks are difficult to manage and cope with; if left without treatment, they may get worse. Panic attacks may be caused by another underlying condition, so it is vital to get a thorough check up to determine the cause of your symptoms.

3 Causes

It's not known what causes panic attacks or panic disorder, but several factors are suspected. These include:

  • Genetics 
  • Major changes in temperament
  • Major stress 
  • Certain changes in how the brain functions

While most panic attacks start off without warning, they can be triggered by certain things and instances over time. Some studies suggest that the body’s fight-or-flight response plays a role in panic attacks. If someone comes to attack you, for instance, your body responds instinctively. Heart rate speeds up as the body readies itself to face the danger. These reactions take place in a panic attack. However, the reason why the attacks occur without any obvious danger is not yet determined. 

4 Making a Diagnosis

If you are experiencing the symptoms of panic attack, consult your health provider immediately to receive a diagnosis. Your doctor may refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist for a more precise diagnosis and treatment.

Beforehand, you may want to make a list that includes:

  • List of symptoms and detailed descriptions
  • Information on your and your family’s past and present medical conditions
  • Any past and present stressors, traumatic events or major life changes
  • Medications, supplements, and vitamins you are taking
  • Questions you want to ask your doctor

To make a diagnosis, the doctor may request several test and procedures to be done. You may have:

  • A comprehensive physical exam
  • Several blood tests to rule out thyroid problems and other conditions
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • A psychological evaluation
  • Your doctor may also ask you to fill out a test for psychological assessment

 Having panic attacks does not mean you have a panic disorder. There are criteria for diagnosis on this and the American Psychiatric Association drafted the DSM-5 or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

5 Treatment

Treatment for panic attacks focuses on limiting the frequency and intensity of the attacks, as well as improving your quality of life that’s probably been affected. Medications and psychotherapy are the most common treatment options. Depending on your medical history, preference, the severity and frequency of attacks, and the availability of a therapist, one or both treatments will be advised.

Psychotherapy 

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is a first choice treatment for this condition. It is considered effective, not to mention the safest option. With this treatment method, you may understand your condition and learn how to cope with it. Cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy, helps you understand that panic symptoms are not dangerous. This is usually done by recreating the symptoms of attack in a repetitive, yet safe manner. When you learn how to deal with the attack and learn that it is not threatening at all, the attacks will then begin to resolve. Positive results can take a lot of time and effort, with the symptoms typically lessening in a few weeks’ time. Within several months, symptoms may go away or at least decrease significantly.

Medications

To help alleviate and minimize the symptoms that come with panic attacks, your doctor may prescribe certain medications. The most prescribed medications for panic attack management are:

  • SSRIs or Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors: SSRI antidepressants are generally safe and first-choice treatment for panic attacks. These usually have very low risk of complex side effects. FDA-approved SSRIs for panic attack treatment include fluoxetine, paroxetine, and sertraline. 
  • SNRIs or Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors: Another class of antidepressants, SNRIs are also used to treat the symptoms of panic attacks. Effexor VR (venlafaxine hydrochloride) is an FDA-approved SNRI that is commonly used for this condition.
  • Benzodiazepines: These are sedatives used to depress the central nervous system. These drugs are known to be habit-forming and may cause physical or mental dependence, particularly when taken in high doses for a long period of time. In treating panic disorder, alprazolam and clonazepam are FDA-approved options. These medications aren’t usually prescribed to people with history of drug or alcohol abuse.

6 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

Consult with your doctor before starting any alternative remedies for panic attacks.

Inositol, a supplement that affects the activity of serotonin in the brain, can possibly minimize the severity and frequency of panic attacks.

7 Lifestyle and Coping

 Apart from medical interventions, there are some lifestyle changes that you can do to help you cope with panic attacks. Here are some of them:

  • Follow your treatment plan
  • Seek support
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, and recreational drugs
  • Practice relaxation techniques
  • Get enough physical activity

8 Risks and Complications

There are several risks and complications associated with panic attacks.

Factors that heighten your risk of having panic attacks or developing panic disorder include:

  • Major life stress
  • Traumatic events
  • Major life changes
  • History of abuse
  • Family history

 If left untreated, the condition can have a big impact to your everyday life. Complications include frequent need for medical care, avoidance of social situations, school or work related problems, alcohol and substance abuse, and development of specific phobias. Anxiety disorder, depression and other mental disorders, and having suicidal thoughts may also be experienced.

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