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What Medications Can Be Used to Treat Panic Disorders?

Medication is a highly effective and popular method to treat panic disorder, agoraphobia, and panic attacks. Your doctor could prescribe medicine to help reduce the intensity of your panic attacks, decrease your feelings of anxiety, and treat any co-occurring disorders like depression. Medicine for panic disorders is classified into two separate categories – anti-anxiety drugs and antidepressants.

Antidepressants

Antidepressants were introduced to the general public in 1950, and they were primarily used to treat mood disorders. It was later found, however, that these medications helped reduce anxiety, decrease the frequency and intensity of panic attacks, and lessen the symptoms of panic. Antidepressant medications are commonly used to treat most anxiety disorders, which include agoraphobia and panic disorder.Antidepressants affect chemical messengers in our brain, which are known as neurotransmitters. There are many different chemical messengers that communicate between brain cells. Some of the most common antidepressants used to treat these disorders include:

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRIs fall under a popular class of medications that are used to treat depression and anxiety. The medicine affects serotonin, which is a naturally-occurring neurotransmitter in the brain. Common SSRI drugs include Zoloft (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), Paxil (paroxetine), and Celexa (citalopram).
  • Tricyclic Antidepressants: Tricyclic antidepressants were popular in treating both anxiety and mood disorders before the rise of SSRIs. In spite of the newer drug, TCAs are still considered an effective means of treating anxiety disorders. The most common TCAs include Doxepin (Adapin), Amitriptyline (Elavil), and Amoxapine (Asendin). 
  • Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAIOs): These are considered some of the earliest developed antidepressants used to treat anxiety and mood disorders. These drugs work to inhibit the activity of an enzyme known as monoamine oxidase, which is responsible for breaking down neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. The most common MAOIs include Phenelzine (Nardil), Isocarboxazid (Marplan), and Selegiline (Emsam).

Anti-Anxiety Medications

Anti-anxiety medications are routinely used in the treatment of panic disorder for their fast-acting relief. These medications relax our central nervous system (CNS), which may lower the intensity of panic attacks and cause the individual to feel a sense of calm. Due to their sedative effects and ability to produce rapid relief, these medications are commonly prescribed to treat those struggling with panic disorder.

Benzodiazepines

In spite of their addictive tendencies, benzodiazepines are among the most commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medications for panic disorder. These drugs are known for their soothing effects, and they work to quickly reduce symptoms of a panic attack and invoke a more relaxed state. 

Benzodiazepines work by slowing down the central nervous system and target GABA receptors in our brain. Although there are various risks involved with prescribing these medications, benzos are safe and effective when treating panic disorder. You should always follow your doctor’s instructions when using these drugs.

The most common benzo drugs include:

  • Xanax (alprazolam)
  • Valium (diazepam)
  • Klonopin (clonazepam)
  • Librium (chlordiazepoxide)
  • Ativan (lorazepam)

If you are struggling with what you believe to be a panic disorder, you should consult with a physician to make a proper diagnosis.

Sources

Purves, D. (1970, January 1). What Defines a Neurotransmitter? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK10957/

Antidepressants. (2020, February 3). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/antidepressants.html

Anxiety Disorders. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml

Agoraphobia. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/agoraphobia.shtml

Panic Disorder: When Fear Overwhelms. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/panic-disorder-when-fear-overwhelms/index.shtml

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