Panic Attacks get the Facts

Get the facts:

Your options:

Take medicines for panic disorder.
Don’t take medicines. Try home treatment and counselling to deal with your symptoms.
Key points to remember
Two types of medicines work well for treating panic attacks. Benzodiazepines can help you feel better right away. You can take antidepressants for long-term treatment.

Counselling may work just as well as medicines.
If you take medicines, follow your doctor’s directions with care. You may have side effects such as headaches or trouble sleeping. Some medicines can treat both depression and panic attacks.

For some people, taking medicines along with getting counselling works best.
Don’t feel bad about taking medicines. Panic disorder is a medical problem, not a weakness. The medicines won’t change your personality.

Compare your options:
Take medicines for panic disorder Don’t take medicines
What is usually involved?
For antidepressants, you take pills or liquids every day or on certain days of the month, for months or years.
For benzodiazepines, you take pills or liquids as needed.
You may also try counselling along with taking medicine.
You try counselling, such as cognitive-behaviour therapy, to control your symptoms.

What are the benefits?
Medicines for panic disorder work well.
Counselling works as well as medicine for many people who have panic disorder.
You don’t have side effects from taking medicine.

What are the risks and side effects?
Medicine may cause side effects such as:
Trouble sleeping.

Benzodiazepines can lead to addiction. (Antidepressants do NOT lead to addiction.)
Your panic disorder may get worse if you have no treatment.
Personal stories about people deciding whether to take medicine to treat panic disorder

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

As an executive, I have to travel a lot for my job. A few months ago, I was boarding a plane for a business trip, and I began to feel very apprehensive. I felt trapped and got off the plane because I was shaking and sweating and my heart was pounding. I wasn’t sure exactly what was wrong, but I felt like I was dying. I had a drink at the bar and was still shaky but took a later flight. After that I began to feel nervous if I even thought about flying, and I had several more similar attacks. Then I had an attack on the subway. I felt like everyone was watching me and there was no escape. I didn’t even want to go to the office after that because I was afraid I could have an attack at any moment. My doctor says I have panic disorder and agoraphobia. I can hardly function, so I am going to take antidepressants and try exposure therapy. My doctor says a benzodiazepine would make the symptoms go away sooner. But I am worried they will make me too drowsy and they may be too hard for me to quit.
Manuel, age 43

I was having lunch with some friends and suddenly began to feel strange—like I couldn’t breathe and my heart was pounding. I didn’t know what was happening; I thought I was having a heart attack. Although the symptoms began to go away after about 10 minutes, I went to the emergency room, where they did some tests and didn’t find anything wrong. A week later, the same thing happened in the middle of the night. I went to see my doctor, and she suggested I may have had a panic attack. Since then, the attacks have been occurring at least once a week, and I have been diagnosed with panic disorder. Although each attack is still a horrible experience, I now know what is happening and that I will get through it. I have been going to therapy for several weeks and am learning how to deal with the symptoms of panic attacks. They are less frequent now and less intense. I think I can get through this without taking any medicine.
Annie, age 32

When I divorced my wife, Celia, I began to feel down and very anxious. As a contractor, I have to deal with people every day, and it seemed very hard to do my job when I felt so stressed out and depressed. I had my first panic attack when my dog got lost at a job. I knew he was probably fine and would soon come back, but with the stress of everything else it just seemed like more than I could handle. I felt awful; I was choking and had bad stomach cramps. Since then, I have had attacks like this nearly every day and a lot of the time I feel down in the dumps. I have been diagnosed with panic disorder and depression. I am going to therapy, and it seems to help a little, but I still have panic attacks and often feel like life is not worth living, and I feel anxious about interacting with people at all. At first I didn’t want to take any medicine. But after reading about it and talking it over with my doctor, I decided to start taking an antidepressant.
Louis, age 28

What matters most to you?
Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to take medicines for panic disorderReasons not to take medicines for panic disorder
I am willing to take medicine for at least several months, or longer if I need to.I don’t want to take medicines if at all possible.

More importantEqually important More important
My panic disorder is not improving enough with counselling alone.I want to continue counselling, without medicine, at least for a while.

More importantEqually important More important
I think my symptoms may be worse than the possible side effects of the medicine.I think the side effects of the medicine would be worse than my symptoms.

More importantEqually important More important
My other important reasons:My other important reasons:

Where are you leaning now?
Now that you’ve thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.
Taking medicines NOT taking medicines
Leaning toward Undecided Leaning toward.

Check the facts
1. Taking medicine is the only way I can treat my panic disorder.
I’m not sure
2. There are two different kinds of medicines that I can take to help my panic disorder.
I’m not sure

Decide what’s next
Do you understand the options available to you?
Yes No
Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?
Yes No
Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?
Yes No

1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?
Not sure at allSomewhat sure Very sure
2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.
I’m ready to take action.
I want to discuss the options with others.
I want to learn more about my options.
3. Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.
Your Summary:

Here’s a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.
Your decision
Next steps
Finishing all the steps will help you make the best decision. You can skip steps if you want, but your summary page won’t be complete. Answer question >
Which way you’re leaning
Finishing all the steps will help you make the best decision. You can skip steps if you want, but your summary page won’t be complete. Answer question >
How sure you are
Finishing all the steps will help you make the best decision. You can skip steps if you want, but your summary page won’t be complete. Answer question >
Your knowledge of the facts
Getting ready to act
What matters to you…

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