Treating Panic Attacks
The question I get the most is: can a panic attack be treated. Well yes and no. The main focus of any treatment is to reduce the frequency of your attacks, and ease the severity of the symptoms.
For some people (unfortunately not me) the attacks disappear completely. So there is still hope for you. But the positive news is I can tell you from my own experiences that easing the severity of the symptoms AND reducing the number of attacks I had was more (!!) then enough to get my life back.
Don’t get me wrong, it is not easy, but it is possible. Please do not take me as a negative example and lose hope. I might not be one of the lucky people that had them eliminated 100% but I now know a lot of people that are complete “panic attack free”.
Types of Treatment for a Panic Disorder
Roughly speaking there are 2 types of treatment. Psychological therapy and medication. What type of treatment will work best for you depends on a lot of things? I cannot possibly tell you what type will suit you best, but I recommend you to start with the psychological treatment. Sometimes it is necessary to switch to medication or a combination of both (the most common type of treatment is basically both at the same time).
Go to your doctor and tell him about your situation. Depending on urgency he will probably give you a light dose of medication for 1-4 weeks. It will take the edge off your attacks while you wait for an appointment for the psychological therapy. Note: do not be afraid of the word psychologist or psychiatrist. They are not for “crazy” people. I was afraid to tell my friends and family I had to go to one. Afraid they might think I totally lost it and was going mental. Afterwards, I wish I had told them all from the get-go because none of them thought it should be some kind of taboo. You will be amazed how many times since I have heard “oh im with a psychologist too”, “my friend x is going to one for some time now”, “my mom went to one and is full of life again” etcetera.
If your doctor offers you psychological therapy, it will probably be in the form of cognitive behavioural therapy.
I will be explaining about this therapy in another article but in short:
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy. It is used to change the way you think and behave and is often used to treat anxiety, depression and other mental and physical health disorders. It will help you deal with panic attacks because your thoughts and feelings and physical sensations are all connected. By changing the way you think and breaking down your thoughts into smaller parts you can change negative feelings so that your panic attacks are far less severe. CBT does not focus on past issues or events but on what you are dealing with today which makes it a lot more effective.
You will also learn some breathing techniques. I was pretty sceptical about this myself, but 8 out of 10 times I'm using these techniques now I gain control very quickly. So try it, be openminded.
How Long Does Psychological Therapy Take?
Most doctors recommend 7 to 14 hours of CBT. Preferably completed within 4 months. In some cases, a shorter programme can suffice. You will have to practice at home too. Don’t neglect your “homework” because CBT gives you some nice handles to use in your daily routine. The more you practice it in your daily routine the faster it will work and you will see the effects.
What helped me a lot was having a diary. Write down what you did, when you had a panic attack and how you tried to make it go away. But even more important: Don’t forget to write down when you did something that day that you thought would trigger a panic attack but it did not.
There are support groups (i am betting there is one near you too) that can help you too. Talking with others about these kinds of treatments helps a lot. And meeting people that have these frightening experiences makes you feel less alone. I know panic attacks can cause you to isolate you from friends, let alone people you do not know, but please give it a try. You will see that even when being treated with CBT other people will have other views on how to handle your attacks. Ask your doctor about support groups in your area or simply do a google search. If you still cannot find anything you like let me know and I will help you.
Panic Attack Medication
I will be describing a couple of commonly used medicines below. There are others and there is more detailed information to be found in another article I will be writing soon.
Antidepressants are not just for people suffering from depression. They can also be used to treat panic attacks, panic disorders and anxiety.
When your doctor gives you antidepressants to help you please note that it can take up to 4 weeks for them to really have an effect. Important: do not stop taking them because you think they are not helping you. It is dangerous to stop taking them without consulting your doctor! Give it some time to have an effect on you. Sometimes the symptoms of your attacks will get slightly worse before you will notice the positive effects. And believe me, they can help massively to reduce the frequency and severity of your attacks.
Talk to your doctor once every 2 weeks to update him on how you feel and if there is any progression. Even when you are feeling better it is likely that you will have to keep taking these medicines for about 6-12 months. When your doctor thinks you are ready he will slowly reduce your dosage.
I will be describing the various forms of antidepressants in detail in another article.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) work by blocking a receptor in your brain. These cells reabsorb the chemical serotonin. Parts of your brain working on serotonin are known to influence your “mood”. By taking SRRi’s your mood can improve significantly resulting in fewer attacks and/or less severe attacks.
For some of you, this means you will have to take SSRIs for a long time but combined with CBT the results are often very positive and fast.
If SSRIs aren’t working for you after 12 weeks your doctor will probably prescribe you a different antidepressant medicine.
Tricyclic antidepressants are pretty similar to how SSRIs work. They regulate the levels of the noradrenaline and serotonin in your brain affecting your mood. It is unlikely that your doctor will prescribe you tricyclic medication before SSRIs because they have more side effects.
Pregabalin, a medicine commonly used to treat epilepsy is another medication used to treat panic disorder.
What type of treatment is the right one for you?