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Millions of people worldwide are affected by anxiety conditions known as panic attacks and panic disorder. Living with panic disorder or having panic attacks may be extremely difficult. It can cause people to avoid particular situations or activities and has a detrimental impact on their daily lives. Yet, many people can control and recover from panic attacks and the disorder with the right care.

The terms panic disorder and panic attack are frequently used interchangeably. It’s crucial to realize that they also have differences. In this post, we will discuss these differences, the specific signs, causes, and treatments, and offer practical advice on how to control panic attacks. Keep reading to learn about Panic Disorder Treatment Options.

What is a Panic Disorder?

A key characteristic of panic disorder is that it causes frequent unanticipated panic attacks that aren’t brought on by any medical or mental health problem. There is frequently no single trigger for them.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), panic disorder can be diagnosed if four or more symptoms of panic attacks are present, accompanied by persistent worry of having panic attacks (for one month or longer) or significant change in behavior related to the attacks.

The signs of a panic attack include:

Sweating

Pounding heart

Chest discomfort and further signs of a heart attack

Shaking or trembling

A feeling of choking

Shortness of breath

Nausea or abdominal pain

Unsteadiness or faintness

Feeling detached or unreal from oneself

Panic over losing control

Fear of passing away or “becoming insane”

Numbness

Either cold or hot flashes

Panic Attacks vs. Panic Disorder: What’s the Difference?

Panic attacks are brief episodes of extreme dread or discomfort that often strike unexpectedly and without notice, reaching a peak within minutes. Apart from the physical signs of a panic attack discussed above, they involve mental symptoms, such as feelings of overwhelming dread. 

Panic attacks are not necessarily indicative of panic disorder alone because they can be caused by other disorders and situations too. Also, even though panic attacks are a symptom of panic disorder, not everyone who experiences a panic attack will go on to develop the disorder. 

So, in simplified terms, we can say that having panic attacks occasionally does not indicate that you have a panic disorder. To receive the panic disorder diagnosis, a person must meet the DSM-5 criteria. These include experiencing recurring panic attacks and chronic worry or fear of further episodes, among behavioral changes suffered due to a panic attack.

Diagnosis of Panic Disorder

It is crucial to remember that panic disorder can be challenging to diagnose because panic episodes can occasionally be confused with other illnesses or develop as a result of another underlying condition. Here are some crucial elements that doctors take into account when reaching a diagnosis:

Symptoms. Recurrent panic attacks are the main indicator of panic disorder. Those with panic disorder may additionally have chronic worry about upcoming panic attacks or behavioral changes brought on by their dread of having panic attacks. For the diagnosis of panic disorder, the DSM-5 does not specify a specific number of panic attacks. Instead, focus is given to the nature and pattern of the attacks as well as how they affect the person’s attitudes, emotions, and actions.

Duration. When panic episodes happen frequently and without warning over an extended period, typically several weeks or months, panic disorder is diagnosed. According to the DSM-5, more than one panic episode must have occurred before a diagnosis of panic disorder may be made.

Medical history. Clinicians examine the patient’s medical history to rule out any further illnesses that might be causing or exacerbating the symptoms. For instance, heart disease, hyperthyroidism, and other conditions might produce symptoms comparable to panic attacks.

Mental health history. Clinicians also evaluate a person’s mental health history, including any prior diagnoses or treatments for anxiety or other mental health issues. They also ensure that panic attacks are not caused by another mental health disorder, such as social phobia, PTSD, etc.

Clinicians may utilize a variety of diagnostic methods, such as structured interviews or self-report questionnaires, to help in the diagnosis of panic disorder. The Panic Disorder Severity Scale (PDSS), which evaluates the frequency, intensity, and effects of panic episodes on a person’s everyday life, is the most often used tool.

Causes of Panic Disorder

Panic episodes can occur for various unifying reasons. One explanation could be how you experience fear and respond to it, and your neurological system and brain significantly influence your level of anxiety. Amygdala dysfunction, which affects how your brain perceives fear and other emotions, is thought to be the cause of these issues. Other structures that may also play a role in the development of panic disorder include the medial prefrontal cortex, insular cortex, hippocampus, and brain stem. It is also believed that chemical imbalances in GABA, cortisol, and serotonin may be a significant factor in developing anxiety that may result in a panic attack.

Although the exact cause of panic attacks can not be specified the following risk factors may account for panic attacks:

Genetics. In the etiology of panic disorder, there has been evidence for genetic heterogeneity, including environmental factor interactions and many single genes.

Stressors. Significant life stress, such as a loved one’s death or critical sickness. a distressing occurrence that may make you vulnerable to panic attacks.

Temperament. Some people are more vulnerable to anxiety or other negative feelings.

Substance use disorder or alcohol use disorder. These can cause symptoms like a rapid heartbeat or dizziness, which can cause panic feelings.

Smoking may also increase the risk of panic attacks, but more conclusive evidence is required to support this conclusion.

How is Panic Disorder Treated?

In order to help patients overcome panic attacks, doctors typically prescribe either psychotherapy, medicine, or a combination of the two. Whatever treatment for panic disorder your doctor chooses, remember that it will take time for it to take effect. The overwhelming majority of patients experience alleviation and do not experience any long-term difficulties when they adhere to their treatment plan.

Psychotherapies

Panic disorder is frequently treated with psychological therapies. The following are some typical panic disorder therapies believed to help minimize panic attack symptoms.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

One type of psychotherapy proven successful in treating panic disorder is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). One of the key objectives of CBT is developing coping mechanisms through modifying problematic thought patterns and behavior. For instance, many panic disorder sufferers have distorted perceptions of themselves and the outside environment. This flawed reasoning frequently influences harmful behaviors, such as avoiding frightening circumstances. CBT may assist you in overcoming negative thought patterns and creating more effective coping mechanisms for your illness.

CBT for panic disorder may include several therapy techniques, such as:

Interoceptive exposure

Breathing retraining

Cognitive restructuring

In vivo exposure

Panic-Focused Psychodynamic Therapy (PFPP)

Psychodynamic psychotherapy is a traditional form of psychotherapy based on specific psychoanalytic ideas. PFPP-XR is effective for treating panic disorder, typically consisting of 24 sessions (held two times a week) divided into three phases. Each person goes through these periods differently.

First phase. Therapists help patients investigate the causes of anxiety and learn what their symptoms mean. Understanding your anxiety better and identifying its cause can help you cope with it and prevent panic attacks.

Second phase. The focus is on further discovering the subconscious emotions and underlying conflicts that cause anxiety symptoms.

Third phase. Therapists help to further examine any issues or apprehensions patients may have about stopping therapy.

Group Therapy

By allowing patients to interact with those who have similar symptoms and challenges, group treatment for panic disorder reduces shame and stigma. Also, patients who worry about experiencing panic symptoms in social contexts get the possibilities for modeling, inspiration, and reinforcement by other group members in a naturally occurring exposure environment.

Medication

Particularly for those who do not react to psychotherapies, medications can assist in controlling panic attack symptoms. The following medicines have been demonstrated to be efficient in panic control treatment.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the first-line treatment for panic disorder. These drugs function by increasing serotonin levels in the brain and reducing symptoms of panic disorders. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) that helps regulate mood.

The following SSRIs have received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of panic disorder:

Fluoxetine (Prozac

Sertraline (Zoloft)

Paroxetine (Paxil)

Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)

SSRIs and SNRIs function similarly but the difference in which neurotransmitters SNRIs affect makes a significant difference. In addition to serotonin levels, SNRIs boost norepinephrine levels in the brain, which is another chemical messenger linked to anxiety. Effexor XR (venlafaxine) is the only SNRI that the FDA has approved for panic disorder.

Benzodiazepines

These drugs are tranquilizers that inhibit the central nervous system. Alprazolam (Xanax) and clonazepam (Klonopin) are two benzodiazepines whose use as a treatment for panic attacks has been approved by the FDA. Ativan (lorazepam) is another benzodiazepine medication prescribed for panic disorder treatment.

Because they have the potential to become habit-forming and lead to mental or physical dependence, benzodiazepines are often only taken short-term. If you have previously struggled with alcohol or drug abuse, these drugs may not be a good fit for you. They may interact negatively with other medications, leading to harmful side effects.

Even if all of the medications mentioned above successfully treat panic disorder, you should keep in mind that only a mental health specialist qualified to treat panic disorder can provide you with the correct prescription after evaluating your condition.

Lifestyle Changes

Making adjustments to your routine to better control your daily stress levels may also help you lessen panic disorder symptoms. Here are some self-help strategies you can use to feel better.

Exercise. Exercise can help to lessen anxiety and panic attacks. For instance, aerobic exercises are helpful in lowering symptoms associated with anxiety and panic. Also, high-intensity exercises may be more beneficial than low-intensity ones.

Relaxation techniques. It has been found that deep breathing and relaxation methods are useful aids for treating panic disorder. You can employ these methods consistently to achieve mental calmness.

Manage stress. Finding techniques to manage your stress is essential because stress may lead to panic attacks. This could entail engaging in stress-relieving activities like yoga and meditation and discovering healthy coping mechanisms like chatting with a friend or taking up a creative activity.

Self-care. Getting adequate sleep, taking restorative breaks during the day, and restricting anxiety-inducing products, such as caffeine, tobacco, or alcohol, are examples of self-care that can help you achieve a calm state of mind and lessen the likelihood of panic attacks. 

Get Panic Disorder Treatment

Thank you for reading this guide on Panic Disorder Treatment Options. Panic disorder is a serious mental health illness that can significantly negatively affect a person’s daily life. Fortunately, effective treatments are available, such as medication, psychotherapy, and self-care techniques. For prompt diagnosis and treatment, it’s essential that you seek out professional assistance from a licensed mental health expert. Many panic disorder sufferers can control their symptoms and enhance their quality of life with assistance and treatment.

Find mental health professionals that treat panic disorder

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