Deciding If Medications for Panic Disorder Are Right for You

Medication Options for Panic Disorder

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Deciding if medications for panic disorder are right for you.

Panic disorder is an anxiety-related condition that is marked by excessive worry, overwhelming fear, and frequent feelings of anxiety. This most common symptom of panic disorder is the reoccurrence of unexpected panic attacks.  These attacks take hold suddenly, often starting with strong feelings of nervousness and dread. 

During an attack, a person may experience a variety of uncomfortable physical sensations, such as shortness of breath, tingling, excessive sweating, nausea, shaking, and chest pain.

These attacks can be perceived of as a frightening and disturbing experience. It is not uncommon for the panic attack sufferer to become afraid that he is losing touch with reality, control, and his mind.  Fortunately, there are treatment options available that can help manage these symptoms.

Medications are by far one of the most common treatment options for panic disorder. Deciding if medications for panic disorder are right for you can be a personal decision. When considering medication options, it is important that you are aware of the potential benefits and side effects to these drugs.

Medication Options for Panic Disorder

In order to be prescribed medication for panic disorder, you must first receive a diagnosis from a qualified mental health professional. In order to be given an accurate diagnosis, this clinician will need to gather information on your medical history and current symptoms.

Once you have been diagnosed you with panic disorder, you may be prescribed one of two types of medications: antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs.

Antidepressants have been used since the 1950’s as a safe and effective way to treat the symptoms of mood disorders, including depression.  It was later discovered that these medications could help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety disorders, including panic disorder.

Antidepressants can help lessen anxiety, improve mood, and reduce the Frequently prescribed antidepressants include Prozac (fluoxetine)Zoloft (sertraline)Paxil (paroxetine), Celexa (citalopram), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), and monoamine oxide inhibitors (MAOIs).

Anti-anxiety medications have also been found to successfully treat the symptoms of panic disorder. In particular, a class of anti-anxiety medications called benzodiazepines, are known for having a tranquil effect. These medications can quickly decrease one’s anxiety and help diminish the panic attack symptom, allowing the panic sufferer to return to a state of calm. Typically prescribed benzodiazepines include Xanax (alprazolam)Klonopin (clonazepam)Valium (diazepam), and Ativan (lorazepam).

Common Concerns About Taking Medication for Panic Disorder

When deciding whether or not to take medications for panic disorder, it is important that you discuss the potential risks and benefits of medication with your doctor. Many people have strong feelings when it comes to whether or not to take prescribed medications for panic disorder.

Some panic sufferers may feel apprehensive about medications due to:  

  • Concerns about potential side effects
  • Worry about possible addiction
  • Fear that you won’t fully “be yourself”
  • Feelings of personal weakness for needing to take medication
  • Wondering if medication will only mask underlying issues
  • Troubled by the thought of having to take medication for the rest of your life

The fact is that medications for panic disorder, like any medication, have the potential for side effects. Your prescribing doctor will carefully monitor your progress and address any concerns. For example, if any experienced side effects become unmanageable, your doctor may want to adjust your dosage or change your medication.

Keep your doctor up-to-date on your medical history, including any past issues with addiction. Be certain to consult your doctor if you have any concerns regarding addiction.  

Taking prescribed medications for panic disorder certainly does not mean that you are a weak or helpless person. Rather, taking medication can actually be seen of as a strength. You had the courage to seek out treatment and get the help you needed. This shows your dedication towards recovering from the symptoms of panic disorder and taking care of yourself.

Additionally, many panic sufferers find that medication is only needed for a period of time or when panic attack symptoms are present. Prescribed medication can help you manage your symptoms, while you continue to learn other ways to cope through psychotherapy and self-help activities.

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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.

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