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How is panic disorder treated?

There is help for people with panic disorder. In fact, it is one of the most treatable anxiety disorders. First, a person should visit a doctor or health care provider to discuss the symptoms or feelings he or she is having. The list of symptoms in this brochure can be a useful guide when talking with the doctor. The doctor will do an examination to make sure that another physical problem is not causing the symptoms. The doctor may make a referral to a specialist such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or licensed social worker.

Medications can help reduce the severity and frequency of panic attacks, but they may take several weeks to start working. A doctor can prescribe medications. Different types of medications are used to treat panic disorder. They are antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and beta blockers. These same medications are used to treat other types of disorders as well.

Psychotherapy, or "talk therapy" with a specialist can help people learn to control the symptoms of a panic attack. Therapy can be with a licensed social worker, counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist. There is no cure for panic disorder, but most people can live a normal life when they receive treatment with medicine and/or therapy.

This answer is based source information from the National Institute of Mental Health.
Specific treatment for panic disorder will be determined by your physician based on:
  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference
Treatment may include medication and/or psychological treatment.
To help treat panic disorder, antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are first-choice treatments. All SSRIs are comparable in effectiveness. Because these antidepressants can take three to eight weeks to work, they are often combined with a short course of one of the benzodiazepines, anti-anxiety drugs that work quickly to relieve panic disorder. SSRIs usually cause fewer and less severe side effects than other medications. Tricyclic antidepressants or monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors are used when SSRIs don't work.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be helpful for those who fear future panic attacks or who avoid situations or places that they think may trigger an attack. The specific combination of treatments will depend, to a large degree, on the person's other mental health conditions, if any. Studies show that medication, CBT, or a combination of both helps 70% to 90% of people with panic disorder. Cutting down on, or eliminating, caffeine and other stimulants is essential, too.
Treatment options for panic disorder include various medications and psychotherapy. Some people with panic disorder do well with only one form of treatment. However, some people with panic disorder require both. If you have severe panic attacks, have been unsuccessful with one of the treatments, or have a mental health condition such as post-traumatic stress or depression in addition to the panic attacks, you may be prescribed both medication and psychotherapy.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.