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Treating Panic Disorder with Medication

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by panic attacks. A panic attack is a sudden, intense “fight or flight” response. It’s accompanied by terror, severe physical symptoms, and a strong need to escape wherever you are. If you have panic disorder, your doctor may prescribe one or more medications for treatment. Common medications are described below. 

Woman talking to pharmacist at pharmacy counter.

Types of Medications

Medications to treat panic disorder include:

  • Anti-anxiety medication: This medication relieves symptoms and helps you relax. Your healthcare provider will explain when and how to use it. It may be prescribed for use before entering a situation that makes you anxious. Or, you may be told to take it on a regular schedule. Anti-anxiety medication may make you feel a little sleepy or “out of it.” Don’t drive a car or operate machinery while on this medication, until you know how it affects you.

  • Antidepressant medication: This kind of medication is often used to treat anxiety, even if you aren’t depressed. An antidepressant balances out brain chemicals. This helps keep anxiety under control. This medication is taken on a schedule. It takes a few weeks to start working. If you don’t notice a change at first, you may just need more time. But if you don’t notice results after the first few weeks, tell your doctor.

Tips for Taking Medications

Never change your dosage or stop taking your medications without talking to your doctor first. Keep the following in mind:

  • Some medications must be taken on a schedule. Make this part of a daily routine. For instance, always take your pill before brushing your teeth. A pillbox can help you remember if you’ve taken your medication each day.

  • Medications are often taken for 6 to 12 months. Your healthcare provider will then evaluate whether you need to stay on them. Many people who have also had therapy may no longer need medication to manage anxiety.

  • You may need to stop taking medication slowly to give your body time to adjust. When it’s time to stop, your doctor will tell you more.

  • If symptoms return, you may need to start taking medications again. This isn’t your fault. It’s just the nature of your anxiety disorder.

 

Special Concerns

  • Side effects: Medications may cause side effects. Ask your doctor or pharmacist what you can expect. They may have ideas for avoiding some side effects. You can also refer to the package insert to learn more about side effects.

  • Sexual problems: Some antidepressants can affect your desire for sex or your ability to have an orgasm. A change in dosage or medication often solves the problem. If you have a sexual side effect that concerns you, tell your doctor.

  • Addiction: Antidepressants are not addictive. And if you’ve never had a problem with drugs or alcohol, you likely won’t have a problem with anti-anxiety medication. But if you have a history of addiction, this medication may need to be avoided.

 

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