Panic Attack Therapy – To Medicate Or Not to Medicate

Whether medication is necessary in the treatment of panic attacks is still up for debt. While some believe very strongly that no drugs are needed, others maintain that the use of them has its place. A new study by the National Institute of Mental Health in Maryland, however, seems to support the latter view.

The study found that there is a predisposition to anxiety in people who lack a key neurochemical receptor in their brains. It is the first to find that people suffering from panic disorder and depression have a deficit in the 5HT1A receptor – about a third less than people who do not have these conditions.

5HT refers to serotonin, a hormone found in the brain (as well as other areas of the body but it's the brain activity that we are interested in here). Our brains are the result of millions of nerve cells all communicating with each other via nerve impulses. Serotonin in one such neurotransmitter. Serotonin effects our moods, anxiety levels and depression – as well as sexuality, sleep and vomiting amongst others!

Why imbalances of serotonin occur are still not known but it has been proven that anti-depressants can increase the amount of serotonin available to the body. One category, known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), preceded the breakdown of serotonin but has many bad side effects. Another category which has proven to have few side effects is SSRIs, or Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors. Some of the better known drugs in this category are Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa and Lexapro. They work to prevent the depletion of serotonin from the bloodstream.

The good news is that SSRIs have been found to be very effective and patients report an improvement in symptoms within weeks. The bad news is that SSRIs are addictive and so they should only be used for short term emergencies. Also, one of the effects of withdrawal is – anxiety!

Serotonin levels can also be increased using natural methods. Getting a good nights' sleep is considered essential and foods high in Vitamin B, Calcium, Magnesium and Tryptophan (turkey, soy, peanuts and almonds) help in serotonin production. Herbs such as Valerian Root and St John's Wort have also been found to boost serotonin levels.

Panic attack medications are useful and effective in the right hands. But like all drug therapies, you should have a thorough knowledge of the benefits and drawbacks before agreeing to take them.