What’s the Best Treatment for Panic Attacks?

By Jill Kapil, Psy.D.
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
September 9, 2022

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.

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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

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.
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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

Want mental health support? Get connected to care in minutes. K Therapy offers free smart chats, which are dynamic, pre-written conversations designed by experts that cover a number of common mental health topics such as depression, anxiety, stress, relationships, and more. Access them for free by downloading the K Therapy app.

K Health also offers anxiety medication for the right candidates.

Online therapists are also available in select states for individualized care. Connect with a licensed mental health therapist for unlimited asynchronous text-based therapy. Therapists respond Monday through Friday between 9 am-5 pm, within 24 hours.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best therapy for panic attacks?
There are several treatment options for panic attacks, including psychotherapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. Depending on your symptoms and the recommendation from your healthcare provider, you may decide to try one or a combination of these options. There is no “one best therapy” or “one-size fits all approach” to panic attack treatment. What works best for one individual may not work well for you, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an approach that can work to treat your symptoms of anxiety and panic.
How do you stop panic attacks quickly?
Benzodiazepines, a type of prescription anxiety medication, can help to reduce feelings of anxiety and panic. These medications usually take effect within 30 minutes. Other treatment options, like deep breathing techniques and cognitive behavioral therapy, can also help to reduce the severity of panic attacks.
What can doctors do for panic attacks?
Medical providers can recommend one or more treatment options for panic attacks, including psychotherapy or prescription medication. Speaking with a provider about your symptoms can also help you determine whether you have a mental health condition, like panic disorder or anxiety disorder.

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.

Jill Kapil, Psy.D.

Dr. Jill Sorathia Kapil is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in California. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology with a minor in Education from the University of California, Irvine; and received her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from CSPP, San Diego (California School of Professional Psychology). Dr. Kapil completed her predoctoral and postdoctoral training at various College/University Health Centers across California, and has been licensed as a Psychologist since 2016.

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