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Medication for Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder

Doctors commonly prescribe medication to help treat panic disorder. The most commonly prescribed medications for panic disorder are anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants. Anti-anxiety medications are powerful and there are different types. Many types begin working right away, but they generally should not be taken for long periods. The latest research suggests the relapse rate for individuals taking medications is much higher than that of individuals using only CBT. Interestingly, there is evidence to suggest the combination of medication and CBT also leads to high relapse rates, indicating CBT is the treatment of choice for Panic Disorder. 

Although antidepressants were designed to treat depression, they can also be marginally helpful for panic disorder. The downside is that they may take several weeks to start working. Some cause side effects such as headache, nausea, or difficulty sleeping. Antidepressants can be safe and effective for many people, however, they may be risky for some, especially children, teens, and young adults. A "black box"—the most serious type of warning that a prescription drug can have—has been added to the labels of antidepressant medications. These labels warn people that antidepressants may cause some people to have suicidal thoughts or make suicide attempts. Anyone taking antidepressants should be monitored closely, especially when they first start treatment with medications.

Beta-blockers, another variety of medication can help control some of the physical symptoms of panic disorder such as excessive sweating, a pounding heart, or dizziness. Beta blockers are not commonly prescribed, although they may be helpful in certain situations that bring on a panic attack. Usually once beta-blockers are discontinued, the panic symptoms return.*

At Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Los Angeles, we are experts in the treatment of panic disorder. We do not provide medication management, but are able to provide referrals to psychiatrists with expertise in treating anxiety disorders. 

*This information is provided courtesy of the National Institute of Health.