Department of Psychiatry
Penn Behavioral Health

Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety

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Panic Disorder

Treatments for Panic Disorder


Medication

The use of drugs in panic disorder treatment has been found to be effective in relieving patients’ symptoms. Both antidepressants and anxiolytics have been found helpful:

  • Antidepressants (SSRI’s, SNRI's, MAOIs, etc.): These medications are taken daily, and help patients build a resistance to the occurrence of panic symptoms. While these medications are described as "antidepressants", most of them have anti-panic properties as well - many patients with panic disorder lack typical depressive symptoms, and may be confused by the title "antidepressant," believing that these drugs are not appropriate for their symptoms. In truth, when combined with talk-based psychotherapy, these medications help form what is often the most effective treatment for panic disorder.

  • Anti-anxiety drugs (principally benzodiazepines such as Xanax): these drugs are taken at the start of or during panic attacks, or before entering anxiety-provoking situations. Some patients take them daily to prevent panic attacks, however these medications may be habit-forming if not used in accordance with a physician's directions. They are often particularly useful at the beginning of treatment, before symptom-resistance from antidepressants have built up, and are generally utilized less and less as other parts of the treatment (antidepressants, psychotherapy) become more effective.

Unfortunately, because medications alone do not treat the underlying cause of panic disorder, discontinuing them in the absence of psychotherapy often results in symptom relapse. Nonetheless, the medications do provide some relief from panic disorder symptoms.


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been used in the treatment of many psychological disorders. It is a form of psychotherapy targeting patterns of thoughts and behaviors that maintain psychopathology. The specific CBT techniques used to treat panic disorder vary for each patient, but the approach generally aims to remove the associations between panic attacks and certain situations, and between fear and bodily sensations.

CBT for panic disorder is designed to reduce the severity of panic symptoms as well as associated stressful psychological states, including general anxiety and depression. CBT typically results in lasting improvements and low rates of relapse, without the need for continued psychotherapy or medication. Other forms of treatment that are incorporated into CBT include general supportive counseling and deep breathing exercises, a form of relaxation treatment.

 

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