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Those who suffer panic attacks are all too familiar with symptoms such as a pounding heart, dizziness, shortness of breath, and stomach related maladies. For the vast majority of the public who do not suffer panic attacks, they do not realize that they are a very private matter. Sufferers typically worry about irrational fears and may recognize them as such, but are unable to do anything about it. Shame over their loss of control over their lives is a common result. This may cause them to not seek help. For those who do seek help, several options are available.

Many specialists in the field agree that cognitive and behavioral therapies used together is the best therapy available for panic attacks. Understanding what panic attacks are is the first step to get the help they need. This cognitive awareness can alter how a person thinks, thereby making them believe they are not crazy or having a heart attack or that they are going to die. Cognitive therapy helps individuals replace negative thoughts with positive ones.

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Behavioral therapy, on the other hand, focuses on changing or eliminating the actual behavior. It does not consider the underlying thought processes involved which lead to that behavior. It is basically saying the symptoms of a panic attack are behaviors learned through being repeatedly subjected to stimulus. An example of this type of therapy may be subjecting a patient to controlled exposure to a stimulus, such as flying for example. They may start out by merely driving to an airport, then move on to entering the terminal, then waiting at the gate, then maybe stepping on and off the plane, until finally they are able to actually fly.

The most effective therapy combines these two types into what is known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This utilizes methodology from both methods, and is currently the most recommended therapy for the control of panic attacks. Depending on the source of the panic attack, CBT may borrow more from one method. Specific phobias, such as our flying example, are often treated with more of a behavioral approach, whereas more generalized or unknown sources of panic attacks borrow more from the cognitive approach. Each case is as different as the individual exhibiting the symptoms, and must be treated as such.

In the cognitive portion of treatment, the thinking errors or thinking distortions create a cycle of fear. The initial symptom of say, an increased heart rate, will generate an anxiety. That anxiety will trigger other thoughts and images, eventually building up to what we call a panic attack. The behavioral portion focuses more on what to do when these symptoms are recognized and then change that behavior. Relaxation and breathing techniques are utilized. This portion of treatment also tends to focus on the “real life” or “in the moment situations”, as in our flying example.

Lastly, CBT may be used in conjunction with drug therapy. Many medications exist that can lessen the severity or reduce the number of panic attacks. They do so by lessening the anxiety associated with any given situation. No single form of therapy works in all cases. Your qualified medical provider must evaluate you and prescribe a course of action suited for your individual situation.

Panic attacks consist of sudden and unexpected bouts of fear or anxiety about a given situation. Symptoms include rapid breathing, increased heart rate, chills, sweating, and stomach upset to name a few. They come on without warning, and can be caused by a specific circumstance, such as flying, or can be more generalized and unknown in origin. These triggers vary widely, as do the symptoms. A common thought of sufferers is that they are dying or having a heart attack, and many seek treatment thinking they are having an emergency medical issue. Initially, people do not understand what is going on, so in their minds they really are in crisis. Acknowledging you are having a panic attack is an important step in helping make them stop.

There are several treatments available to treat panic attacks, but most people who suffer are not aware of it, so they do not seek treatment. Behavioral therapy is geared to change or eliminate how one responds to an anxiety-producing situation. This therapy often tries to expose the sufferer to controlled stimulus in an attempt to teach them how to react. They expose the sufferer to real life situations and teach them how to respond. Cognitive therapies concentrate on the internal thought processes that bring about the unwanted behaviors. This method treats the dysfunctional thinking errors. A combination of these two therapies form what is known as cognitive behavioral therapy, as the name suggests. This is currently the preferred form of therapy to treat panic attacks, as it attempts to treat the reasons for certain behaviors and the behaviors themselves.

Panic Attacks Information

Medication is another form of treatment. There are dozens of drugs typically used to treat depression and anxiety which also work to help panic attacks. There are different classes of drugs that work differently within the body. SSRI’effect how the brain transmits electrical impulses, typically take a moderately long period of time to work, and need to be monitored and adjusted as needed. Another class of drugs, the benzodiazepines, treat anxiety more quickly, but there is concern over their use in the long term due to their addictive nature.

Panic attacks are a symptom or sub-type of an anxiety disorder.  Anxiety disorder is a term to describe a wide variety of conditions which result in abnormal fear or anxieties. Some studies indicate that up to 18% of Americans have some sort of anxiety disorder to one degree or another. Social anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder are common examples of other anxiety disorders. Without proper treatment, people can suffer from them their entire lives, often times to the point of them being debilitating. Recognizing panic attacks, or any anxiety disorders, is a crucial step in getting treatment. Modern treatment methods are safe and effective, and are becoming more and more commonplace as our understanding of these conditions increases.