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What is panic disorder treatment?

Find out about healthy panic disorder treatment options.

A psychologist works with his patient to determine the appropriate treatment for panic disorder. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
A psychologist works with his patient to determine the appropriate treatment for panic disorder.

Panic disorder is a type of chronic anxiety disorder that causes recurring and unexpected panic attacks (episodes of overwhelming fear accompanied by various physical symptoms). Anticipatory anxiety about having another attack also occurs, along with concern about the consequences of such attacks or behavioral changes resulting from the attacks.

Panic disorder treatment strategies include medication and psychotherapy, either singly or in combination. In order to initiate panic disorder treatment, visit your health care provider who can diagnose the illness and refer you to a mental health professional.

The National Anxiety Foundation maintains information about a wide range of anxiety-related disorders.

Psychological Panic Disorder Treatment


Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with a trained professional is often the first step in panic disorder treatment. CBT is a combination of treatments designed to help individuals suffering from panic disorder to change both the patterns in thinking (cognition) and action (behavior) that trigger panic attacks. CBT is generally structured around 12 weeks of individual or group treatment during which time the patient will be exposed to and taught to deal with the situations that lead to anxiety and fuel panic disorder. CBT is often used in combination with medication, and the therapy can be repeated if the symptoms of panic disorder resurface after successful treatment.

Panic Disorder Treatment with Medication

Both anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants can be prescribed for panic disorder treatment. When considering medications for the treatment of anxiety, visit the Medline Plus Drug Information Page. Operated by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the site provides detailed information on drugs, their uses and side effects.

Benzodiazepines are the most common anti-anxiety medication used in panic disorder treatment. These drugs, which include alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin) and lorazepam (Ativan), work as mild sedatives affecting the central nervous system.

However, benzodiazepines can cause dependency and addiction, particularly when taken for long periods or in large doses. Therefore, antidepressant drugs are the most common medicinal panic disorder treatment, and include SSRIs, SNRIs, TCAs and MAOIs. SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are the most popular antidepressant drug used for panic disorder treatment because they often have fewer and less extreme side effects than other antidepressants.

However, SSRIs can cause sexual dysfunction as well as other physical and psychological side effects. Citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), fluoxetine (Prozac, Prozac Weekly), paroxetine (Paxil, Paxil CR) and sertraline (Zoloft) are examples of SSRIs.

SNRIs (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), such as duloxetine (Cymbalta) and venlafaxine (Effexor, Effexor XR), can have numerous and serious side effects as compared with SSRIs, including increased blood pressure and high cholesterol counts.

TCAs (tricyclic antidepressants), including desipramine (Norpramin), imipramine (Tofranil) and nortriptyline (Pamelor), are effective in panic disorder treatment. These drugs were some of the first antidepressants to be introduced for the treatment of anxiety, and are less popular than other treatments today because they pose a high risk of both minor and serious side effects.

MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors), such as phenelzine (Nardil), tranylcypromine (Parnate), isocarboxazid (Marplan) and selegiline (Emsam), are rarely prescribed for panic disorder treatment because of the very serious side effects associated with their use. Both anti-anxiety medications and antidepressant medications treat the symptoms of panic disorder and will not provide a cure. These medications should not be taken without the supervision of a health care professional.

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