Panic Disorder - Treatment
As with most mental disorders, panic disorder is treated with a combination of medication and counseling. Many experts believe that panic attacks are caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that help carry messages between nerve cells in the brain. An excess or shortage of neurotransmitters can cause a wide variety of mental disorders.
Medications prescribed for panic disorder are designed to restore the proper balance of neurotransmitters. For example, a group of drugs called
selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) control the action of serotonin (pronounced sihr-uh-TOE-nun). Serotonin is one of the most important neurotransmitters in the brain.
Other medications are designed to calm patients down. These medications are called antidepressants. They can often help relieve the worst symptoms of panic disorder.
One of the most effective forms of counseling is called cognitive-behavioral therapy. The purpose of cognitive-behavioral therapy is to help patients understand the nature of their disorder. Patients are taught to recognize the symptoms of an oncoming panic attack and to learn how to respond to the attack in a reasonable way. They learn breathing exercises that help them to calm down and control the physical symptoms of panic.
Patients can also make changes in their lifestyle to reduce the risk of panic attacks. These changes include eliminating caffeine and alcohol from their diets and avoiding certain legal and illegal drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine, and amphetamines.
Some forms of relaxation therapy may help relieve the symptoms of panic disorder. Yoga, biofeedback training, and hypnotherapy may help patients achieve a more balanced outlook on life. Some practitioners recommend certain herbs to strengthen the nervous system. These herbs include lemon balm, oat straw, passion flower, and skullcap. Hydrotherapy (water therapy) may also help patients relax. The recommended treatment is hot Epsom-salt baths with oil of lavender.