Disorders, Widely Misunderstood and Misdiagnosed for Years, Can Now
Be Successfully Treated with Behavioral Therapies
Physical symptoms of panic disorders often include shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating, rapid heartbeat and nausea. Typically, victims experience apprehensions including fear of dying. Women are twice as likely as men to develop this problem, but there is no age or social group where it is more prevalent.
Psychological treatment for panic disorders could help you. A group of professionals recently met at a conference sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, and their findings appeared in the "Monitor," a publication of the American Psychological Association. As I read this article, I could not help thinking about how encouraging the findings were for the use of cognitive behavior therapy, a practice which is used at BriefCounseling, for the treatment of panic disorders. I would like to summarize some of the highlights of this report.
Panic attacks can strike a person on a rare occasion and are not a problem, but for one in 75 people worldwide, they are a recurrent nightmare. If someone gets at least four attacks a month or more followed by at least one month of worrying about getting another, they are considered to have a panic disorder.
Apparent panic attacks are a very uncomfortable, frightening experience where a person will feel without any apparent reason, intense fear. The attacks "reach a crescendo within 10 minutes," and may recur repeatedly and rapidly for many hours.
About one-third of the people with panic disorders also have agoraphobia, which is fear of being in public places. Behavioral treatments have demonstrated excellent results in reducing and/or eliminating panic attacks and agoraphobia.
Drug therapies may also be effective in treating panic attacks. Side effects can vary from drug to drug, such as: weight gain, sexual difficulties, psychomotor impairment and drowsiness. Also drug dependence and relapse are a problem after the medication is stopped.
Studies show 83-87% of patients can be cured. In two recent studies by Dr. David Barlow, a psychologist at New York State University, and his colleagues, between 83 and 87 percent of the subjects receiving cognitive behavior treatment were not having panic attacks one to two years after receiving treatment. The cognitive behavioral approach involves weekly sessions for 8 to 12 weeks.
At BriefCounseling we have had similar results using cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive therapy works because it addresses subjects' irrational thoughts about normal bodily sensations. Panic disorder patients are more likely than others to misinterpret normal sensations. For example, they may think heart palpitations mean they are about to have a heart attack. These thoughts increase their anxiety, which then strengthen the sensations that bring on a panic attack.
We feel that many patients, family members and health professionals need to know that successful panic disorder treatments are available.
Also, as many as 70 percent of panic disorder patients may have other psychological disorders that need to be taken into consideration when planning their treatment. If treatment does not produce noticeable results in six to eight weeks, another approach should be explored.