How are panic attacks managed or treated?

Psychotherapy, medications or a combination are very effective at stopping panic attacks. How long you’ll need treatment depends on the severity of your problem and how well you respond to treatment. Options include:

  • Psychotherapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy, or talk therapy. You discuss your thoughts and emotions with a mental health professional, such as a licensed counselor or psychologist. This specialist helps identify panic attack triggers so you can change your thinking, behaviors and reactions. As you start to respond differently to triggers, the attacks decrease and ultimately stop.
  • Antidepressants: Certain antidepressant medications can make panic attacks less frequent or less severe. Providers may prescribe serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) or tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). SSRIs include fluoxetine (Prozac®) and paroxetine (Paxil®). SNRIs include duloxetine (Cymbalta®) and venlafaxine (Effexor®). TCAs include amitriptyline (Elavil®) and doxepin (Sinequan®).
  • Anti-anxiety medications: Benzodiazepines are the most commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medication to treat and prevent panic attacks. They help with anxiety but have risks of addiction or dependence. These medications include alprazolam (Xanax®) and lorazepam (Ativan®).

What are the complications of panic attacks?

Panic attacks are highly treatable. Unfortunately, many people put off seeking help because they’re embarrassed. Untreated panic attacks or panic disorder can interfere with your ability to enjoy life. You may develop:

  • Anticipatory anxiety: The possibility of having a panic attack triggers extreme anxiety.
  • Phobias: A phobia is an extreme, unreasonable fear of something specific. For instance, acrophobia is a fear of heights, while claustrophobia is a fear of enclosed spaces.
  • Agoraphobia: Approximately two-thirds of people with panic disorder develop agoraphobia. This anxiety disorder makes you afraid to be in places or situations where a panic attack might happen. The fear can become so extreme that you become too afraid to leave your house.

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