Before selecting a proper management or treatment approach, it is important that the patient be diagnosed correctly as having a true case of panic attack and not another disorder with similar signs.
Misdiagnosing these illnesses might have serious life-threatening consequences for the patient. If the patient has a known history of panic attacks in the past, this will significantly cut down the risk of misdiagnosis.
It is very possible that family members or close associates of the victim are already oriented with how to recognize and treat a panic attack effectively. If this is the case, consider enlisting their help immediately.
Once a case of panic attack is ascertained, two options are available for those who are assisting in its intervention: either get him or her to a hospital or other competent medical facility, or simply treat the patient wherever is convenient. Most panic attacks do not require hospitalization, though, and can be safely intervened at home.
To stop an attack, the following methods may be used:
- Do your best to calm the victim down. Ask him or her to relax: this will alleviate the symptoms and prevent them from building up to a more serious tempo.
- When somebody experiences a panic attack, by all means do your best not to panic yourself. You should be calming down the patient, not causing stress with wild gesticulations and a strained voice. Talk soothingly and pat him or her gently as a sign of reassurance.
- Ask the patient to try breathing more slowly. Instruct him or her to take deep, long breaths.
- Dispel the notion that the patient is losing his or her mind. If the victim is repeatedly saying that he or she is going crazy, counter it.
Do not attempt to address a panic attack with these intervention techniques if the victim has a known medical illness other than panic disorder.
Episodes of panic attack typically last less than an hour, especially when some form of non-medical intervention have already been performed. However, a victim who is sent to a doctor because it isn’t clear that a genuine panic attack is happening will be medicated or treated differently according to his or her other known conditions. This is a precaution: it might be that the person is, in reality, experiencing a heart attack.
Medical treatment might be in the following forms:
1. Anti-anxiety medication such as diazepam.
2. Anti-depression medication such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
3. Standard treatment for cardiac conditions (example: heart attack).
4. Referral of the patient to a mental-health professional for further evaluation.
5. Close monitoring or observation post-attack, especially for persons with special conditions, such as pregnant mothers.
Psychotherapy is an option if the victim is having periodic episodes of panic attack. Usually this is employed along with medication, to great effect. Therapy is also recommended for patients who are advised by their doctor to discontinue their medication for various reasons. For those unfortunate few whose response to medication is less than optimistic, psychotherapy may also be the last resort.
Two types of therapy are recommended for panic disorder:
1. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT).
This treatment emphasizes the suppression of thinking that hinders a person from adapting to realities in his or her life. In recent years, CBT has made a shift of its focus from changing the patient’s way of thinking to helping him or her make relationship adjustments.
2. Psychodynamic Psychotherapy.
The central focus of this kind of therapy is to minimize tension in the patient through in-depth examination of possible causes of the tension, hidden in the unconscious aspect of the person’s mind. This type of treatment is rather similar to psychoanalytic therapies.
Patients that are diagnosed with panic attack for the first time or have had a relapse after a long interval period are usually asked to undergo medical treatment or psychotherapy depending on the overall outlook pertinent to that episode. This is determined by the examining doctor. If, however, it was decided that the incident does not warrant subsequent treatment or follow-ups (this also is determined by the doctor), then the patient need not return unless the episode recurs.