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Panic Disorder Treatment

There is too much noise. There are too many people. The room is spinning. My chest hurts… why does my chest hurt? Am I having a heart attack? What is that noise? Is that my heartbeat?

Am I crazy? Am I okay? Am I dying? I think I am dying.

Why can’t I stop sweating? Can anyone else hear my heartbeat?

These are all common thoughts and feelings when someone is struggling with a panic disorder, which can cause panic attacks and episodes.

Most people who experience panic disorders or panic attacks know that many times these experiences come out of nowhere. Often those who have experienced a panic attack due to panic disorder will explain that the fear and anxiety they felt in the moment was overwhelming and paralyzing. They sweat, have trouble breathing, their heart pounds so loud they feel it in their hands or ears.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), in the United States, 1.6% of the adult population, which is more than three million people, will have panic disorder at some time in their lives. They also report that panic disorder impacts 2.4 million people in our country each year.  But, why?

What Causes Panic Disorders?

The general understanding of the science suggests the cause of panic disorder is unknown. Some scientific evidence points to major life changes or triggers. These can include but are not limited to:

  • Losing or changing jobs
  • Marriage or divorce
  • Death in the family
  • Transition in life like going to college

Interestingly, data does suggest that panic disorder, like anxiety or depression, is more likely to occur in those who have a family history of it. Other things to consider when thinking about the causes of mental health disorders in general, panic disorder included, are risk factors.

Risk factors are things that cause you or a loved one to be more likely to experience these disorders, illnesses, or symptoms. Panic disorder risk factors are:

  • Those with childhood trauma are more likely to have a panic disorder
  • Women are twice as likely to have a panic disorder
  • A person with a family history of panic disorders is more likely to be diagnosed with a panic disorder

How Is Panic Disorder Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of a panic disorder is done by using the classification outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5). This is a source of classification and diagnosis guidelines for mental illnesses that is used across the world. According to the DSM-5, a person must have recurrent and often unexpected panic attacks and at least one of these attacks needs to be followed by one or more attacks or  the fear of more attacks.

This is a disorder that requires a professional diagnosis. This will help rule out other causes of some symptoms like: drug use, medication side effects, other mental disorders such as phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), etc.

Aside from the causes and risk factors related to panic disorders, most people are focused on their signs and symptoms related to panic disorders and panic attacks.

An image of a child crying

Symptoms of Panic Disorders

Symptoms can be different depending on the type of panic attack. Often, we think that when it comes to panic or anxiety that it is one-size-fits-all but that is not the case.

mental illness in teenagers

Panic disorders on the other hand, can include panic attacks as well as some other symptoms. In general some common symptoms of panic disorder are:

  • chest pain
  • dizziness, light-headedness, mild vertigo
  • heart Palpitations
  • feelings of sudden, extreme fear
  • trembling, shaking, rocking, scratching, numbness or tingling
  • feeling “out of it”, or detached from reality
  • chills, hot flashes, sweating
  • nausea, upset stomach, vomiting, or diarrhea

Some of these symptoms seem pretty generic and like they can be a result of a lot of other things. This is why it is so important to seek care if you think that you or a loved one may be experiencing a panic disorder.


Can You Use Medicine for Panic Disorders and Panic Attacks?

Medications are often prescribed for those with panic or anxiety disorders. These medications are usually part of a class of medicines known as depressants. These work to counteract the extreme stimulation that is felt during a panic attack.

It is important to remember that these medicines will not cure a panic disorder but studies show that up to 90% of people with panic disorder are helped by therapy and medication in combination. Intensive treatment and therapies usually lasts from six months to one year, although medicine may be required for the remainder of the person’s lifetime.

An image of a child crying

Some common examples of medications prescribed for these disorders are:


These typically have few side effects, aside from drowsiness and are a common first-prescribed medication for those with panic disorders. Common types of these are:

  • clonazepam (Klonopin®)
  • lorazepam (Ativan®)
  • alprazolam (Xanax®)
MAOIs (MAO Inhibitors):

This type of medicine is the oldest and is still effective for a lot of people. The most common types are:

  • phenelzine (Nardil®)
  • tranylcypromine (Parnate®)
Tricyclic antidepressants:

These are ideal for those who also experience depression that is contributing to the panic disorder. Common types are:

  • imipramine (Tofranil®)
  • protriptyline (Vivactil®)
  • clomipramine (Anafranil®)
Newer antidepressants:

These are newer medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors known as SSRIs that work to change the brain chemistry of the person who takes them. Common medicine names are:

  • fluoxetine (Prozac®)
  • sertraline (Zoloft®)
  • fluvoxamine (Luvox®)
  • paroxetine (Paxil®)
  • citalopram (Celexa®)

Due to unique chemical reactions to medications, your care team may try drugs individually or in combination until the most effective regimen is found. Some combinations include things like citalopram and clonazepam. It is important to remember, medication is most effective when used alongside therapy.

Other Types of Treatment and Therapy for Panic Disorder

When it comes to mental illness, a lot of us do not know what to expect when it comes to treatment options. Here at SUN Behavioral Kentucky, we want to be sure that you know and understand your options.

For panic disorders there are a variety of options for care. These include:

  • Exposure therapy – This is a type of therapy that is commonly used for panic disorders. With each exposure, you become less afraid of these internal bodily sensations and feel a greater sense of control over your panic. It allows you to experience the physical sensations of panic in a safe and controlled environment.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – This type of therapy focuses on patterns of thought and behaviors. It works to limit those thoughts or behaviors that are triggering your panic attacks.

FAQs About Treating Panic Disorder

Is there a difference between anxiety and panic disorder?

Yes. An anxiety attack is classified much differently than a panic disorder. Panic disorders are commonly known as recurrent panic attacks whereas anxiety is a simple fear or overwhelming feeling. Those with anxiety disorders experience this anxiety, fear or worry for prolonged periods of time with no rest.

Is a panic disorder a mental illness?

Yes, a panic disorder is considered a mental illness according to the DSM-5.

What causes panic disorder?

The research suggests that formal causes are largely unknown when it comes to panic disorders but there is some small consensus on topics like genetics, environmental factors and experiences.

Treat Your Panic Disorder

The capable team at SUN Kentucky has been serving our community for years. Reach out to begin your journey to recovery.


SUN Behavioral Kentucky

820 Dolwick Drive
Erlanger, Kentucky 41018

Hours of Operation:

Open 24 hours

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