Although panic disorder is not life-threatening and seldom requires urgent care, people with panic disorders frequently use emergency department services. The chest pains, shortness of breath, and high heart rate that characterize the initial stages of a panic attack are easily confused with symptoms of a heart attack.
In one study, panic disorder was the primary diagnosis in 43% of patients with chest pains who had normal angiograms. Another found that 28% of patients with fainting spells as their primary medical complaint also had a mood, substance abuse, or anxiety disorder (most commonly panic disorder).
Several studies have suggested that patients with panic disorders are at high risk for suicidal thoughts and attempts. If a person with a panic disorder begins to talk about committing suicide, contact a doctor immediately. The doctor may suggest bringing the person to the nearest hospital emergency room, to the doctor's office, or to another appropriate place for a more in-depth assessment.
Signs that a person may have decided to kill themselves include giving away belongings and saying goodbye to friends and relatives. If you see these signs in someone you know, take the person to a hospital (or other appropriate facility) immediately so they may be treated in a safe environment.
Some self-care techniques may be useful for treating panic disorders when combined with medication and psychotherapy.Relaxation techniques can be used to help control anxiety if you are experiencing or anticipating situations that have triggered panic attacks in the past. One relaxation technique you can use involves deep breathing. While sitting or lying down, breathe in slowly. Your chest and stomach should both expand outward. Hold your breath for a second or two, and then exhale slowly in a controlled manner.
Muscle relaxation is another technique you can use to help control your anxiety. Choose a muscle, and tighten it. Hold the tension for a few seconds, and then slowly relax the muscle. Work your way down your body, tightening and relaxing one muscle at a time.
Your doctor is the best source of information on the drug treatment choices available to you.
Early psychotherapy and education aimed at symptom control has been shown to improve the effectiveness of drug treatment. Although medications are very effective for reducing the number and intensity of panic attacks, many people maintain a fear of the places and things that triggered their attacks in the past. Psychotherapy and education may help to teach new ways of coping with these things, and to control any symptoms that do appear.
Cognitive therapy focuses on any false beliefs you may have, and on how these beliefs may trigger panic attacks. Many people with panic attacks tend to misinterpret bodily sensations as indications of an oncoming attack. Cognitive therapy aims to eliminate these false beliefs, and to help lessen the anxiety that occurs in anticipation of these events.
Applied relaxation techniques help to give you a sense of control over your level of anxiety. It is possible to avoid a panic attack by using muscle relaxation exercises and visualization techniques.
Hyperventilation often accompanies panic attacks, and is thought to be the cause of symptoms such as dizziness or fainting. Learning how to control hyperventilation during panic attacks can help you to avoid future attacks.
With proper treatment, the frequency and intensity of panic attacks can be greatly reduced.
Most experts suggest that both psychological and drug therapy should continue for at least six months after the initial diagnosis. At that time, you should be weaned from the medication to see if the panic attacks return.
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