Dr. Joy: Don't Panic

By WEEK Reporter

October 5, 2011 Updated Oct 5, 2011 at 8:05 PM CDT

In tonight's Ask Dr. Joy: how to cope with panic attacks.

More than six million Americans are affected by panic disorder, but new research studies are showing trends related to prevention and treatment.

Though six million Americans experience panic, it is more common with women and appears to be hereditary.

The disorder is characterized by sudden attacks of terror, dread and fear that seem to come out of the blue.

Other symptoms may include: faintness, dizziness, sweats, pounding heart, chills, chest pain. A person may also feel intense fear of losing control, dying, impending doom.

A new study published in the Journal of Biological Psychiatry suggest that panic attacks may not come "out of the blue" as once thought.
Researchers in Texas discovered that one hour prior to attacks sufferers had an increase in heart rate, respiration and indication of psychological reaction to stimuli. Patients tend to hyperventilate and there is an elevated rise in carbon dioxide.

Panic attacks are uncomfortable but not dangerous. You will not have a heart attack, you will not die, and you will not go crazy. As soon as you believe this, you are on the way to recovery.

You are in control. You may feel out of balance or disoriented, but you can learn techniques to minimize the effects.

The panic will pass. Most attacks last just a few minutes, and with the use of breathing and rational thinking, the attack will pass.

Many attacks don't have to happen. You can avoid some attacks with techniques you can learn, and by staying in the present and believing you can cope with the effects.

Dr. Joy suggests several ways to cope. Medications may be used, if appropriate and learning skills and techniques for managing and minimizing panic attacks from a licensed mental health professional.

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