ANXIETY : SYMPTOMS & TREATMENTS FOR PANIC ATTACKS / PANIC DISORDER

If you have had a panic attack, you know what it feels like. The list of symptoms include:

1. palpitations, pounding heart or accelerated heart rate
2. sweating
3. trembling or shaking
4. sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
5. feeling of choking
6. chest pain or discomfort
7. nausea or abdominal distress
8. feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded or faint
9. feelings of unreality or being detached from oneself
10. fear of losing control or going crazy
11. fear of dying
12. numbness or tingling sensation
13. chills or hot flushes

This list of symptoms comes from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association. To qualify for this unpleasant club you need to have experienced at least four symptoms from the list above. The sensations come on abruptly and build to a peak within ten minutes. Many people turn up at emergency rooms with panic attacks believing they are having a heart attack.

People who have panic attacks believe that something terrible is about to happen to them-that they will have a heart attack, faint, go crazy or have a seizure. While none of these things are about to occur, this anxiety disorder itself is more than trouble enough. The most common complication of a panic attack is agoraphobia. Because panic attacks are so terrifying the individual who has had this experience will often try to avoid any situation where a panic attack occurred-driving, in a parking lot, in a movie,in a store, on a highway. Agora comes from the Greek language and it means the open market place. Many people with Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia become prisoners in their own homes, afraid to go anywhere at all. Sometimes they can go out but only with a close family member or friend. In children, this often leads to a refusal to attend school. This disorder can be crippling to adults causing them to be unable to go to a job, care for their children or attend social functions.

Not all people who have panic attacks develop agoraphobia. These people can continue their daily routine but still suffer and feel diminished confidence. With our without agoraphobia, panic attacks are a sign of serious trouble. Without treatment, symptoms tend to expand and intensify over time; that is, happening more often and in more situations. Luckily there are excellent treatments for these disorders.

TREATMENT FOR PANIC DISORDERS

Panic disorder is a physiological conditions involving bodily reactions. It is the brain going in to a “flight or fight” when no immediate threat is really around. Panic disorder often develops during times of extreme stress but it can occur spontaneously in those who are vulnerable.

Medications effectively block this extreme physical reaction and I would recommend them for all sufferers. The most effective medications are the non-addictive SSRI’s. Benzodiazepines can be used for short term and immediate relief until the longer acting SSRI’s develop time to build up in the body. It is important to bring symptoms under rapid control as each episode of panic undermines the person’s confidence and makes them more vulnerable to further episodes.

Psychotherapy is enormously important in helping the person to understand what brought on their Panic Disorder, what the symptoms mean and to provide support and guidance until symptoms are brought fully under control. Cognitive Behavior Therapy is also used to assist in reducing the panic attacks.

Exposure therapy, another form of behavior therapy is also used to overcome agoraphobia. If agoraphobia has gone on a long time, it will take more extensive psychotherapy to bring daily life back to normal.
Highly effective treatments for panic attacks are available.

Please contact me, or call 561.212.5408 to schedule an appointment. I urge you to get help so you can get better.

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One Response

  1. Thank you Dr. Goldstein for your great article on anxiety symptoms. I want to take a more natural approach and not use SSRI’s or benzodiazepines. I am hoping that Cognitive Behavior Therapy will help curb attacks without the use of medications. Exposure therapy does sound a bit scary though, because the fear is so bad sometimes. Anxiety sufferers have a fear of fear itself and it seems like prior to exposure therapy, anxiety sufferers will experience the most anxiety they have ever felt in their lives!

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