Panic Disorder

Many of us may have a panic attack or two during our lives, and the brief episodes don’t lead to anything else. But for some people, they happen a lot more. Fortunately, treatment can do a lot to stop them.

Doctors generally treat panic attacks by setting people up with psychological therapy, medication, or both. Whichever route you and your doctor take, it will need time to work, so try to be patient. When people follow through with their treatment plan, the overwhelming majority of them find relief and have no permanent problems.

First Step

The racing heartbeat or other discomforts that go with an attack can resemble other illnesses, such as heart disease. So your doctor will probably start by giving you a complete physical exam. That way, she can make sure that the symptoms aren’t coming from a disease you didn’t know about.

If no medical condition like that shows up, your doctor may send you to talk to a psychologist or psychiatrist trained to recognize when someone has been having panic attacks.

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Your doctor will combine the counselor’s input with her own observations to diagnose what’s wrong. When someone has attacks repeatedly, doctors call the condition panic disorder.

Counseling

The treatment may begin with “talk therapy.” You’ll sit down with a counselor who can help you understand what panic disorder is and how you can manage it.

As your treatment continues, therapy should help you figure out the situations, thoughts, or feelings that cause your attacks. Once you understand what’s happening, those triggers have less power to cause trouble.

Counseling should also show you that the attacks’ physical effects don’t actually hurt you. With your therapist, you’ll work through your symptoms in a safe, gradual way until they seem less scary. That also can help make the attacks go away.

You’ll also learn relaxation techniques that can help you handle attacks when they do happen. If you can control your breathing, for instance, that may make a panic attack less severe. It might also make the next one less likely. You have to practice these skills regularly in your daily life to get the benefit.



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