Panic Disorder Treatment Scottsdale | Phoenix

Psychologists and psychiatrists at Shier Private Practice in Scottsdale, AZ specialize in the treatment of panic disorder. Our private outpatient clinic offers a comprehensive psychiatric/medical assessment and treatment plan. Treatment may include medications, behavioral therapies or a combination of treatments.

What is Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent panic attacks. A panic attack is a period in which an individual experiences intense fear, or feelings of impending doom. During a panic attack, an individual likely will experience physiological symptoms such as palpitations, shortness of breath and accelerated heart rate. Panic attacks may be expected or unexpected, with or without a trigger, and may occur in periods of calmness or anxiousness. A panic disorder develops when an individual remains preoccupied with the fear of a recurrent panic attack.

In the United States and several European countries, panic disorder has a 12-month prevalence rate of 2%-3%. The median age of onset for panic disorder is 20-24 years of age.

What Are the Symptoms of Panic Disorder?

The DSM-5 Criteria for panic disorder are as follows:

Recurrent unexpected panic attacks. Panic attacks are abrupt surges of intense fear or discomfort (from a calm or anxious state) that reaches a peak within minutes, and during which time four or more of the following symptoms occur:

  1. Palpitations, pounding heart or accelerated heart rate
  2. Sweating
  3. Trembling or shaking
  4. Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  5. Feelings of choking
  6. Chest pain or discomfort
  7. Nausea or abdominal distress
  8. Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded or faint
  9. Chills or heat sensations
  10. Paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations)
  11. Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  12. Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  13. Fear of dying

At least one of the attacks has been followed by 1 month (or more) of one or both of the following:

  1. Persistent concern or worry about additional panic attacks or their consequences
  2. A significant maladaptive change in behavior related to the attacks

The disturbance is not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance or another medical condition.

The disturbance is not better explained by another mental disorder.

What Is the Cause of Panic Disorder?

The specific cause of panic disorder is unknown. It affects both males and females of different age groups and cultures. There are temperamental, environmental and genetic/physiological factors that influence the development of panic disorder. As with other anxiety disorders, the amygdala (the fear structure of the brain) and the midbrain (responsible for experiencing pain) become hyperactive when an individual experiences a panic attack. This suggests that individuals with more sensitivity in these regions may be more likely to experience more panic attacks and thus more likely develop a panic disorder as a result.

Research has shown that children of parents with anxiety, depression and bipolar disorders may have an increased risk for panic disorder. Smoking and interpersonal stressors may also heighten the risk of panic disorder. There is some indication that separation anxiety in childhood may precede the eventual development of panic disorder, more research is needed to identify whether it is a specific risk factor.

How Is Panic Disorder Diagnosed?

Panic disorder is diagnosed through a thorough biopsychosocial psychiatric evaluation and medical assessment used to rule out other psychological and medical conditions that may present with similar symptomatology. A psychological self-assessment or questionnaire may be used in diagnosis.

Panic Disorder Treatment

The primary treatment options for panic disorder include psychotherapy and medication, however, a combination of these two methods may increase the efficacy of treatment.

FDA-approved medications commonly used in the treatment of panic disorder include Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIS) and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors. Benzodiazepines are also FDA-approved for the short-term treatment of panic disorder, however they are known to be habit-forming and may not be a good medication choice for individuals who have experienced alcohol or drug abuse. Benzodiazepines are also more likely to interact with other medications, eliciting dangerous side effects.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has shown to be most effective in terms of psychotherapy in the treatment of panic disorder.

How to Cope

  1. Maintaining a balanced lifestyle can help an individual manage panic disorder.
  2. Healthy distractions – Calming distractions like puzzles, calling family and friends and/or going on walks will lessen the amount your mind can focus on anxiety, which should lessen the severity of panic.
  3. Stress reduction – Set limits on requests that may increase your stress levels.
  4. Relaxation techniques – Participating in mindfulness meditation or deep breathing exercises can reduce your overall stress level and may help curb symptoms of panic/excessive worry about impending panic attacks.
  5. Exercise routine – 30 minutes of daily aerobic exercise may help manage anxiety, diverting an individual’s attention away from feelings of panic and reducing worry.
  6. Good sleep hygiene – Healthy sleep patterns promote a stronger ability to maintain emotional equilibrium, making it easier to cope with panic attacks.
  7. Avoid drugs and alcohol – Drugs and alcohol increase symptoms of anxiety as they wear off, and therefore are maladaptive in coping with panic disorder.

Last update: February 25, 2019

The content on this website is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.