If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you know how scary it can feel. During a panic attack, a person experiences an abrupt surge of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes. At least four physical symptoms can occur during a panic attack, including heart palpitations, chest pain, sweating, trembling or shaking, or sensations of shortness of breath or choking.
Though it’s common to experience a panic attack in response to a known trigger, if you have multiple or regular panic attacks that come out of the blue, you may have panic disorder.
Thankfully, there are treatment options that can help to soothe panic attack symptoms when they arise as well as help prevent them from occurring, including psychotherapy, medications, and lifestyle changes.
Can Panic Attacks Be Treated?
Yes, panic attacks can be treated and, in some cases, prevented. The treatment options for panic attacks are similar to the treatment options for other types of anxiety disorder: psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both.
You should know that there is no “one best” treatment for panic attacks as what works for one person may not work for the other. It’s important that you work with your healthcare team to help determine the right treatment course for you and your symptoms.
Psychotherapy for Panic Attacks
Psychotherapy, also referred to as “talk therapy,” is commonly used to treat panic attacks and disorders and can help to reduce the overall intensity and frequency of panic attacks. Though it’s unlikely that you will be able to have a psychotherapy session during a panic attack, having regular psychotherapy sessions can help you to learn how to cope better with the attacks when they arise.
One form of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is commonly used to treat panic disorders. CBT can be particularly helpful in helping people to reframe the way they think, behave, and react to triggering events, fears, and symptoms of panic attacks.
Medications for Panic Attacks
Certain medications can also be prescribed to help treat panic attacks.
Selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
SSRIs are one of the most commonly prescribed classes of antidepressants used to treat anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. SSRIs work by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain, which can help to improve your mood and regulate your emotions.
SSRIs are daily medications used to reduce generalized anxiety symptoms and the frequency of panic attacks. When taking an SSRI, it can take several weeks for the medication to take effect and improve your anxiety symptoms. It’s also important to keep in mind that it may take some time to find the right type of SSRI for you and your body, as side effects are possible with this type of medication.
Examples of SSRI medications that can be used to treat panic attacks and panic disorder include escitalopram (Lexapro), fluoxetine (Prozac), and sertraline (Zoloft).
Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
SNRIs are another type of prescription antidepressant medication used to treat depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. Unlike SSRIs, SNRIs affect two different chemicals in the brain, serotonin, and norepinephrine, and for this reason, are sometimes referred to as “dual reuptake inhibitors” or “dual-acting antidepressants.”
In many cases, a healthcare provider may recommend trying an SNRI medication after an SSRI fails to address symptoms. Providers often recommend SSRIs first because they are less likely to cause side effects, especially when taken at higher doses.
Like SSRIs, SNRI medications are often recommended to be taken every day and will take some time to take effect.
When taking either an SSRI or SNRI, it’s important to work closely with your healthcare provider and to keep them updated if and when you experience any new or troublesome symptoms or side effects. SNRIs in particular can have a negative impact on some people with panic disorder, which is why it’s important to work closely with your provider when taking this medication.
Examples of SNRI medications that can be used to treat panic attacks and panic disorder include venlafaxine (Effexor XR), duloxetine (Cymbalta), and desvenlafaxine (Pristiq).
Benzodiazepines are another type of prescription medication used to treat anxiety, insomnia, seizures, and muscle spasms. They work by calming the central nervous system and reducing feelings of anxiety and panic.
Unlike SSRIs and SNRIs, benzodiazepines can be taken as needed and work more quickly than antidepressant medications. So if taking a daily medication doesn’t work for you, benzodiazepines may help to reduce anxiety and symptoms of panic attacks when taken at the moment that you experience them.
However, some people can develop a tolerance to benzodiazepines, requiring them to take higher and higher doses to achieve the same effect over time. Benzodiazepines can also be habit-forming and cause withdrawal symptoms, which is why most providers generally prescribe this type of medication for short periods of time.
Examples of benzodiazepines that can be used to treat panic attacks include alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), and lorazepam (Ativan).
Lifestyle Changes and Home Remedies for Panic Attacks
Psychotherapy and medication can help to treat anxiety and panic attacks, but there are also certain lifestyle changes that can have a positive effect on anxiety. Lifestyle changes that can help to reduce feelings of anxiety and the occurrence of panic attacks include:
- Stress management: Mindfulness, meditation, yoga, physical activity, muscle relaxation techniques, and other stress management exercises can help to keep your central nervous system calm and reduce feelings of anxiety and panic.
- Getting enough sleep: Prioritizing getting regular quality sleep can help to improve your mental and physical health.
- Support groups: Engaging in a support group can help to provide an additional outlet for sharing anxieties, concerns, and achievements with others.
When to See a Medical Provider
Having a panic attack can be frightening and unsettling. And if you’ve experienced multiple or recurrent panic attacks, you may feel especially anxious about when the next one may occur. Thankfully, there are treatment options available. Psychotherapy, medication, and lifestyle changes can help to reduce your overall anxiety and prevent panic attacks from reoccurring.
If you’ve recently experienced a panic attack or are feeling particularly anxious, reach out to your medical provider to discuss your treatment options. Depending on your medical history, lifestyle, and goals, they may recommend one or more of the options listed above. But regardless of which treatment plan is best for you, keep in mind that it may take some trial and error to find the right approach for your symptoms.
How K Health Can Help
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia Criteria Changes from DSM-IV to DSM-5. (2016).
Panic Disorder: When Fear Overwhelms. (2022).