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Panic attacks & panic disorder: Symptoms, causes, treatment


Self-help for panic attacks

Self-help approaches include:

  • Stay still and be somewhere safe, such as parking if driving when an attack is felt to be coming on
  • Focus on something that doesn’t threaten you and remember the attack will end soon - but don’t 'fight' the attack
  • Use breathing techniques - slow and deep - counting to 3 then breath in or out
  • Visualise something positive.

General lifestyle tips include:

  • Trying to relax
  • Exercise more
  • Eat a healthy balanced diet, cut down on sugary food and drink
  • Quit smoking
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol.

Joining a support group online or in person can also help - where experiences and coping techniques can be shared.

Medical and psychological treatment for panic disorder

Medical and psychological treatment for includes:

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) - psychological 'talking therapy' to help address negative thoughts.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are antidepressants that help produce more serotonin brain chemicals. A low dose will be recommended to start with. If side effects of the medication cause discomfort, a doctor may be able to recommend an alternative drug.

Tricyclic antidepressants are a different type of antidepressant that work on brain chemicals noradrenaline and serotonin.

Pregabalin and clonazepam are anticonvulsant drugs that may help some people with panic disorder.

Who gets panic attacks?

Panic disorder can affect people of all ages - usually from the teenage years onwards.

The mental health charity Mind says panic disorder affects around 1.2% of the population.

Complications of panic disorder

Without help, a person with panic disorder has a higher chance of developing other phobias - including agoraphobia making leaving home a difficult experience.

Panic disorder also increases a person's risk of alcohol abuse or drug abuse.

How can I prevent panic attacks?

You can't always prevent attacks - but seeking medical advice, getting advice on therapy or medication, and learning self-help coping skills - can help reduce the severity of attacks.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on February 08, 2017

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