There are a wide variety of medications on the market that are used to treat Panic Attacks. The medications that are used to treat this disorder are targeted to focus on the two major stages of a panic attack – the anxiety, and the panic attack itself.
The first stage of the panic attack that is treated with medication is the anticipation of the panic attack. This is called “anticipatory anxiety” and it plays a large part in the buildup of panic toward a full blown attack. The medicine that treats the first stage of symptoms takes care of the physical symptoms and the negative thoughts that make up the anticipation of the panic attack.
The second stage of the panic attack that needs to be managed through medicine is the severe symptoms associated with the attack itself. Some drug treatments handle each stage separately, and other approaches manage both stages with the same medicine.
The following classes of medicine are used to treat panic attacks.
** Beta Blockers (Propranolol, Atenolol) **
Beta blockers treat the physical symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks including racing heartbeat and trembling or shakes.
** Tricyclic Antidepressants (Doxepin, Desipramine, Clomipramine) **
This family of antidepressants is mostly used for anxiety associated with depression; however it is sometimes used to treat panic attacks.
** Benzodiazepines (Diazepam, Lorazepam, Oxazepam) **
Benzodiazepines are long-term medications for severe conditions that can be taken for years. These are said to be extremely effective in 70-80% of patience who suffer from panic attacks. It has fewer side effects than other medication; however in some people it actually causes anxiety, so it should be used under close supervision.
** Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors – MAOI (Phenelzine, Tranylcypromine) **
These medicines are family of anti-depressant medicines which are sometimes used to treat patients who suffer from panic attacks. The choice of MAOI’s over other medicines for panic disorder can sometimes be related to other psychological or medical issues. Sometimes existing depression will be treated along with the panic attacks with a single medication – and this is often when the MAOI is used.
** Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors – SSRIs (Fluoxetine, Paroxetine) **
SSRIs were first prescribed for depression under the name Prozac. Subsequent to this, it was recognized that the fact that SSRIs maintained appropriate levels of serotonin in the brain meant that this class of medication could also be used to treat anxiety and panic disorders, which have also been found to respond to an increase in levels of serotonin in the brain.
The most common prescribed medications for panic attacks are benzodiazepines which appear to be most effective, although they are often used in combination with SSRI in order to treat more of the symptoms of anxiety and depression that surround the panic attack episodes.
The most important aspect of medications for panic attacks is to recognize that they are not a solution. Medication serves to relieve the symptoms of the disorder so that you are able to focus your attention and energy on developing more positive thought patterns, improving your “self-talk”, and creating methods to confront and conquer the stresses and anxieties that have caused the panic attacks in the past. The only way to truly cure a panic attack is not through medication, but through a combination of medicine and an intensive treatment plan with a qualified therapist.