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Panic Attack Treatment: Panic Attack Therapy and Medication

Learn about panic attack treatment and therapy for panic attacks. Includes info on panic attack medication and strategies for treatment of panic attacks.

Panic attack treatment varies from person to person, but usually includes panic attack medication for prevention and immediate relief of symptoms; and therapy to help the patient learn to cope with triggers and relax the body and mind. Treatment strategies have the most success when patients are given both medication and therapy for panic attacks together.

Medications Used as Treatment for Panic Attacks

Anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants are used as treatment for panic attacks. Physicians prescribe sedatives and anti-anxiety medications for immediate relief of symptoms during the middle of an attack. During a full-blown attack, anti-anxiety drugs provide relatively rapid relief of symptoms and have a calming effect. These panic attack medications include:

  • alprazolam (Xanax®)
  • clonazepam (Klonopin®)
  • lorazepam (Ativan®)
  • diazepam (Valium®)

If you're in the midst of a panic attack, taking one of these panic attack medications will give you fairly quick relief, but they're habit-forming, so you can't use them for the long-term. Because of the danger of dependence and severity of withdrawal symptoms, doctors usually only prescribe these for the short-term at the beginning of panic attack treatment.

Antidepressants, on the other hand, do not carry a risk of dependence; therefore, act as a first line panic attack medication that patients can use for the long term. These work to reduce severity and frequency of your panic attacks as well as prevent the anxieties and fears that trigger your attacks. However, antidepressants won't give you immediate relief of panic attack symptoms. Common antidepressants used for panic attack medication include those from the class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These include: paroxetine (Paxil®) fluoxetine (Prozac®), setraline (Zoloft®), citalopram (Celexa®), and escitalopram oxalate (Lexapro®).

Panic Attack Therapy

In many cases, panic attack therapy can clear up the disorder without the use of drugs. Psychotherapy works well for preventing attacks and maintaining coping skills that work to stave them off. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps you learn to cope with symptoms of a panic attack. This highly effective method of panic attack therapy teaches you techniques, such as meditative breathing, muscle relaxation, and how to use relaxing thought processes.

It's important that therapy for panic attacks addresses:

  • how your negative thoughts and attitudes may contribute to anxiety that leads to an attack
  • behaviors and reactions to situations that trigger your attacks

The therapist identifies these negative thoughts and behaviors, then gives you strategies and tools to change the way you think, behave, and ultimately, feel.

Another effective panic attack therapy is called exposure therapy. With exposure therapy, the therapist exposes you to the very situations that you avoid for fear of having another panic attack. Perhaps you drive 5 miles out of the way to go grocery shopping because you've had panic attacks at the grocery store nearby. With exposure therapy, your therapist may eventually ask you to go to the grocery store and confront your fears, or she may tell you to imagine going there and describe all of your feelings.

For some people, confronting the fear head-on may have a negative impact on recovery, if done too early. In these cases, the therapist will use systematic desensitization, which involves a step-by-step method of confronting your fears. In our example with the grocery store above, the therapist may show you photos of the grocery store near your home. Next, she may ask you to drive by it and in the next step she'll ask you to actually park in the lot of the grocery store. Step by step, you'll get closer to actually entering the grocery store and shopping there. It may take several steps, or just a few, depending on the level of fear you have built up around the concept of shopping there.

Finally, it's critical that you find a therapist that knows how to treat panic attacks. He or she should feel comfortable treating panic attacks and have experience in treating them successfully. The therapist will talk to you, and possibly your medical doctor and family members, about your panic attacks and any medications you're taking. He or she will consider this information when coming up with an appropriate panic attack treatment strategy for you. Getting treatment for panic attacks and committing yourself to closely following your treatment plan will put you on the road to recovery and a higher quality of life.

Additional Panic Attack Information

article references


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next: How to Deal with Panic Attacks: Panic Attack Self-Help
~ all articles on panic disorder
~ all articles on anxiety disorders

Last Updated: 29 June 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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