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Links to our Panic Anxiety Disorder Support Group & Information

Panic Anxiety Disorder Index Introduction To Panic Anxiety Disorder Panic Disorder Other forms of Anxiety Disorders?
Causes of Anxiety Disorders Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders Other Illnesses with Anxiety Disorder Help for Anxiety Disorder
Coping With Anxiety Disorder Help for Family of Anxiety Disorder Treatment For Anxiety Disorders Online Panic Anxiety Disorder Test
Cognitive Therapy Medications For Anxiety Disorder Combination Treatments Psychodynamic Treatment

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Treatments for Anxiety Disorder

Treatment With Medications

In this treatment approach, which is also called pharmacotherapy, a prescription medication is used both to prevent panic attacks or reduce their frequency and severity, and to decrease the associated anticipatory anxiety. When patients find that their panic attacks are less frequent and severe, they are increasingly able to venture into situations that had been off-limits to them. In this way, they benefit from exposure to previously feared situations as well as from the medication.

The three groups of medications most commonly used are the tricyclic antidepressants, the high-potency benzodiazepines, and the monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Determination of which drug to use is based on considerations of safety, efficacy, and the personal needs and preferences of the patient. Some information about each of the classes of drugs follows.

The tricyclic antidepressants were the first medications shown to have a beneficial effect against panic disorder. Imipramine is the tricyclic most commonly used for this condition. When imipramine is prescribed, the patient usually starts with small daily doses that are increased every few days until an effective dosage is reached. The slow introduction of imipramine helps minimize side effects such as dry mouth, constipation, and blurred vision. People with panic disorder, who are inclined to be hypervigilant about physical sensations, often find these side effects disturbing at the outset. Side effects usually fade after the patient has been on the medication a few weeks.

It usually takes several weeks for imipramine to have a beneficial effect on panic disorder. Most patients treated with imipramine will be panic-free within a few weeks or months. Treatment generally lasts from 6 to 12 months. Treatment for a shorter period of time is possible, but there is substantial risk that when imipramine is stopped, panic attacks will recur. Extending the period of treatment to 6 months to a year may reduce this risk of a relapse. When the treatment period is complete, the dosage of imipramine is tapered over a period of several weeks.

The high-potency benzodiazepines are a class of medications that effectively reduce anxiety. Alprazolam, clonazepam, and lorazepam are medications that belong to this class. They take effect rapidly, have few bothersome side- effects, and are well tolerated by the majority of patients. However, some patients, especially those who have had problems with alcohol or drug dependency, may become dependent on benzodiazepines.

Generally, the physician prescribing one of these drugs starts the patient on a low dose and gradually raises it until panic attacks cease. This procedure minimizes side effects.

Treatment with high-potency benzodiazepines is usually continued for 6 months to a year. One drawback of these medications is that patients may experience withdrawal symptoms—malaise, weakness, and other unpleasant effects when the treatment is discontinued. Reducing the dose gradually generally minimizes these problems. There may also be a recurrence of panic attacks after the medication is withdrawn.

Of the MAOIs, a class of antidepressants which have been shown to be effective against panic disorder, phenelzine is the most commonly used. Treatment with phenelzine usually starts with a relatively low daily dosage that is increased gradually until panic attacks cease or the patient reaches a maximumdosage of about 100 milligrams a day.

Use of phenelzine or any other MAOI requires the patient to observe exacting dietary restrictions, because there are foods and prescription drugs and certain substances of abuse that can interact with the MAOI to cause a sudden, dangerous rise in blood pressure. All patients who are taking MAOIs should obtain their physician's guidance concerning dietary restrictions and should consult with their physician before using any over-the-counter or prescription medications.

As in the case of the high-potency benzodiazepines and imipramine, treatment with phenelzine or another MAOI generally lasts 6 months to a year. At the conclusion of the treatment period, the medication is gradually tapered.

Newly available antidepressants such as fluvoxamine, fluoxetine, sertraline and related drugs that are part of a class of new agents called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, appear to be effective in selected cases of panic disorder. As with other anti panic medications, it is important to start with very small doses and gradually raise the dosage.

Scientists supported by NIMH are seeking ways to improve drug treatment for panic disorder. Studies are underway to determine the optimal duration of treatment with medications, who they are most likely to help, and how to moderate problems associated with withdrawal.

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