How is panic disorder treated?

A combination of the following therapies often is used to treat panic disorder:

  • Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy (a type of counseling) addresses the emotional response to mental illness. It is a process in which trained mental health professionals help people by talking through strategies for understanding and dealing with their disorder.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy. People who have panic disorder often participate in this type of therapy in which the person learns to recognize and change thought patterns and behaviors that lead to troublesome feelings. Therapy also aims to identify possible triggers for panic attacks.
  • Medication. Anti-anxiety medications (such as alprazolam and clonazepam) and antidepressants (such as paroxetine and sertraline) are used to treat panic disorders. Sometimes, heart medications (such as beta blockers) are used to control irregular heartbeats.

Some people will respond well to treatment only to experience panic attacks later in life. When panic attacks continue after treatment has stopped, additional treatment might still help to control and reduce panic attacks. In addition, relaxation techniques—such as breathing retraining and positive visualization—might help a person get through a panic attack.

What are the complications of panic disorder?

Panic disorder is highly treatable and, once treated, does not lead to any permanent problems. Without treatment, however, panic disorder can have serious consequences and can severely impair quality of life. Complications of untreated panic disorder include the following:

  • Avoidance. A person might discontinue any activities that seem to trigger a panic attack. This can make a normal work and home life nearly impossible.
  • Anticipatory anxiet. This refers to anxiety that is triggered merely by thinking about the possibility of having an anxiety attack.
  • Agoraphobia. This is the fear of being in places or situations in which an attack might occur, or from which escape would be difficult or highly embarrassing. This fear can drive people to avoid public places and crowds, and might even progress to the point that the person will not leave his or her home. About one-third of people with panic disorder develop agoraphobia.

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