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What Are the Best Medications for Panic Attacks?

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Updated September 03, 2013

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There are several different medications that may be used to help treat panic attacks.

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Question: What Are the Best Medications for Panic Attacks?

Panic attacks are characterized by sudden and overwhelming feelings of fear and dread. During a panic attack, a person may feel anxious and frightened while experiencing a variety of somatic sensations. Common symptoms include tingling, shaking, trembling, numbness, shortness of breath, excessive sweating, and chest pain. It is not uncommon to feel confused and afraid during a panic attack, fearing that you are losing touch with reality or control of yourself.

Panic attacks typically involve a combination of emotional and physical symptoms. However, the extent and types of symptoms can vary from person to person. That is one of the reasons why one medication will not cure panic attacks for every sufferer.

Determining what medications are best for you will involve some trial and error that will be determined between you and your physician. The best medication for your panic attacks will depend on a variety of factors, including your symptoms, diagnosis, treatment goals, and your reaction or tolerance to medications.

The following describes some of the most commonly prescribed medications to treat panic attacks:

Answer:

Antidepressant Medications

As the name suggests, antidepressant medications were initially prescribed to help reduce the symptoms of depression. Since their initial introduction in the 1950’s, numerous types of antidepressants have become available. The most common classes of antidepressant medications include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors or SNRIs, tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).

Aside from mood disorders, these medications have also been approved for the treatment of anxiety and panic attacks. Antidepressants work to impact the neurotransmitters located in the brain. Some of these chemical messengers are thought to be imbalanced for people with mood and anxiety disorders. Antidepressants assist in returning balance to certain neurotransmitters, which can lessen the intensity of panic attack symptoms.

Anti-Anxiety Medications

Benzodiazepines are a class of anti-anxiety medications that are often prescribed to treat panic attacks. Known to have a sedative or relaxing effect, these medications are also commonly referred to as sedatives or tranquilizers. Benzodiazepines are fast acting, quickly relieving panic attack symptoms and eliciting a sense of calm.

Benzodiazepines affect the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), neurotransmitters located in the brain that influence a variety of brain functions, but primarily inhibits nerve activity. By impacting the GABA receptors, these medications slow down the central nervous system and rapidly induce feelings of relaxation. Benzodiazepines are typically prescribed for a limited amount of time while the panic sufferer develops additional ways to manage panic attacks.

Getting Help for Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are the most prominent symptom of panic disorder, but can occur as a part of other mental health conditions. Your doctor will be able to determine if these attacks are due to panic disorder or a different underlying condition. Based off your current symptoms and medical history, your doctor will be able to provide you with an accurate diagnosis.

Once your doctor has determined your diagnosis, she will then help get you started on an appropriate treatment plan. This plan may include some of the aforementioned medications. It may additionally include psychotherapy, which can also assist you in managing your panic attacks. For best treatment results, most mental health professionals recommend that you use a combination of these two options.

Sources:

Batelaan, N. M., Van BalkomStein, A. J., and Stein, D. (2012). Evidence-based Pharmacotherapy of Panic Disorder: An Update. The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 15, 403-415.

Dudley, William. (2008). Antidepressants. San Diego, CA: Reference Point Press.

Hoffman, E. J. & Mathew, S. J. (2008). Anxiety Disorders: A Comprehensive Review of Pharmacotherapies. Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine, 75, 248–262.

Preston, John D., O'Neal, John H., Talaga, Mary C. (2010). Handbook of Clinical Psychopharmacology for Therapist, 6th ed. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Silverman, Harold M. (2010). The Pill Book. 14th ed. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

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