Antidepressants for Panic Attacks

Panic Attack Treatment Options

As you may have guessed by the name, antidepressants were originally used to treat depression. First available in the 1950’s, these medications were found to stabilize mood. Later it was discovered that these medications could also be used to decrease the symptoms of anxiety disorders, including panic attacks.

Antidepressants work to impact naturally occurring chemicals in the brain. Known as neurotransmitters, these chemicals send messages through neurons and are responsible for regulating various bodily functions, including sleep and digestion.

Neurotransmitters also influence mood and are thought to be imbalanced for those with mental health conditions.

Antidepressants can help bring balance back to neurotransmitters, reducing anxiety and lessening the frequency and severity of panic attacks. To achieve this, each distinct class of antidepressants will impact different neurotransmitters. Listed here are 4 separate classes of antidepressant medications that are most frequently prescribed for the treatment of panic attacks:

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are one of the most frequently prescribed to treat anxiety disorders and panic attacks. This class of antidepressants works to influence various functions, including mood and sleep. SSRI’s can impact serotonin in a way that can help enhance mod and decrease panic attacks and anxiety. Some common SSRI’s include Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), Paxil (paroxetine), and Celexa (citalopram).

Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)

Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) work similarly to SSRIs to balance serotonin, but also impact the neurotransmitter known as norepinephrine. This neurotransmitter is associated with the fight-or-flight stress response, including how one reacts to stress and anxiety.

By balancing both serotonin and norepinephrine, SNRIs can improve mood, lower anxiety, and assist in alleviating panic attacks. Some frequently prescribed SNRIs include Effexor (venlafaxine), Cymbalta (duloxetine), and Pristiq (desvenlafaxine) .

Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs)

Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs) are less widely used than SSRIs and SNRIs, but are still prescribed to effectively treat panic attacks and anxiety. Similar to SNRIs, TCAs work to balance serotonin and norepinephrine levels. Some of the most common TCAs include Elavil (amitriptyline), Asendin (amoxapine), Norpramin (desipramine), Adapin, Sinequan (doxepin), Tofranil (imipramine), Pamelor (nortriptyline), Vivactil (protriptyline), and Surmontil (trimipramine).

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) are one of the earliest classes of antidepressant medications. MAOIs are still used to treat panic attacks, however these antidepressants present potential dangerous medication interactions and dietary restrictions, making SSRIs, SNRIs, and TCAs the preferred choice.

Much like SNRIs and TCAs, MAOIs affect levels of serotonin and norepinephrine. Additionally, MAOIs impact the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is associated with physical actions, energy levels, and personal motivation. Some of the most commonly prescribed MAOIs include Nardil (phenelzine), Parnate (tranylcypromine), Marplan (isocarboxazid), and Emsam (selegiline).

Getting Antidepressants for Panic Attacks

The first step to getting treated for panic attacks involves scheduling with your doctor. Be prepared to discuss your medical history and thoroughly review your current symptoms. Based on this and other important information, your doctor will be able to determine your diagnosis. Although panic attacks are most often associated with panic disorder, your symptoms may be a sign of a separate mental health disorder. Your doctor will consider many factors when making an accurate diagnosis.

Once a diagnosis has been made, your doctor will assist you in determining the best course of treatment. Your treatment options may include psychotherapy and prescribed medications, including antidepressants. Through psychotherapy, you will be able to learn new ways to manage your panic attacks, while prescribed medication can assist in reducing the severity of these attacks. Your doctor will discuss the benefits and potential side effects of taking antidepressants for panic attacks. 

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