Medications

A variety of therapies can be used to treat panic attacks and the best results are obtained when a combination of thinking and behavior therapies are used. When both the behavioral and cognitive mindset is changed through a gradual process of modification, panic attack relapses are less common than when only one therapy is used.

Rehabilitation can also be aided by the use of medication. Panic attacks can be debilitating and lead to a substantial loss of quality of life if left untreated. Luckily, this disorder does respond to treatment and so treatment is definitely worth seeking.

There are several different types of medications used in the treatment of panic attacks. Some of them are prescribed in order to control the symptoms while others can lessen the number and severity of an attack as well as reduce the anxiety of having another one.

An effective medication often prescribed is SSRI, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as Prozac, Zoloft or Paxil. These belong to the antidepressants which affect neurotransmitters in the brain.

These chemicals are used by the nerves in the brain to send messages to and fro and any neurotransmitters which have not been taken up by other nerves will be reabsorbed by the original nerve. This is a process known as ‘reuptake’. What happens when SSRI are taken is that they inhibit the reuptake of serotonin, which then allows more serotonin to be used by other nerves. This is important because serotonin is thought of as the ‘happy hormone’ and helps regulate moods, temper, anxiety and depression.

Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) were often used to treat panic attacks before SSRIs were available. These include Tofranil, Anafranil and Norpramin. While they are considered to be just as effective as SSRI’s, the latter are tolerated better and are somewhat safer.

Whatever the medication chosen, there are side-effects to the drugs. Some of these are minor while others can be life-threatening so it is vital that the individual who is prescribed these medications be closely monitored. Such medications should not be lightly prescribed and only when absolutely necessary. Under no terms should pregnant women be treated with these drugs as there is the possibility of harming the fetus.

Another family of drugs which have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as suitable for the treatment of panic disorders is that of benzodiazepine. Valium is probably the most familiar of these drugs but there is also Xanax, Ativan, and Klonopin. Unlike SSRI’s which need to be taken every day, these medications can be taken as needed for the reduction of anxiety and nervous tension.

The good news is that the symptoms of panic attacks and panic disorders should improve as soon as a few weeks after starting treatment. If after two months there is no sign of improvement, then perhaps a higher dose is needed or the use of a different medication would have better results. It usually takes about a year or even longer for there to be conclusive results.

After this time, medication dosage can be decreased gradually over a few weeks. Some individuals may experience attacks again after the reduction in medication, in which case the dosage needs to be increased again for a few months. For some people, medication may need to be taken for a lot longer.

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