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Panic Attacks - what they are and how they can be treated

A panic attack is a sudden feeling of intense terror that may occur in certain situations or for no apparent reason. Some people will take a trip to the ER thinking they’ve had a a heart attack.

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All About Panic Attacks

Panic attacks and anxiety disorders don’t necessarily go hand in hand; however, a panic attack is a common symptom of an anxiety disorder

Symptoms of a panic attack may include:

  • Shortness of breath

  • Dizziness

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Choking

  • Nausea


The cause of panic attacks is unknown, but they may be related to a chemical response in the brain, caused by actual threatening or stressful events or by thinking about stressful events. The brain response leads to physiological changes in the body, such as shallow breathing and rapid heartbeat.

While some people say they feel like they are going to die or go crazy, panic attacks are treatable. 

Panic or anxiety attacks are common. Panic disorders are less common and only affect two percent of the population. A panic disorder may be diagnosed if the person is having frequent attacks.


There are two forms of treatment for panic attacks – psychotherapy and medication.


Psychotherapy is also known as talk therapy. This form of therapy helps the patient identify the situations that cause a panic attack. Different techniques, such as grounding techniques, can be used to avoid a panic attack from the outset of symptoms. 


Medication, alone or with psychotherapy, may be useful in some cases. Medications come in three types of classifications:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). This class of drugs is generally safe with a low risk of serious side effects. Examples are Prozac, Lexapro, Paxil, and Zoloft.

  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). This class of medications treats depression but may be used for anxiety disorders. 

  • Benzodiazepines. These sedatives are central nervous system depressants, such as Xanax or Klonopin. Benzodiazepines are generally used only on a short-term basis because they can cause mental or physical dependence. 


Finding the right medication is usually trial and error. Your doctor can help you find the right medication or combination to treat your symptoms.

If panic attacks are disrupting your life, call now to set up an appointment with one of our therapists.

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