I have a friend who suffers from spontaneous panic
attacks. Is there any way to help her?
— Pete R., Tacoma, Wash.
Dr. Small's answer:
A small percentage of the population experience
intermittent episodes of panic and terror that can
include both physical and psychological symptoms.
When this happens, their hearts race and they can’t
catch their breaths. In some cases, these patients can
feel more serious symptoms such as chest tightness,
dizziness, and faintness.
For some, the attacks are connected to certain
places. If this is the case, the situation can often
be corrected by simply avoiding the setting that
triggered the symptoms.
If the attacks become chronic and occur in many
different places, patients eventually can become
housebound, developing a condition that is known
Anyone who experiences cardiac and respiratory
symptoms typical of panic attacks should have a
thorough medical evaluation to make sure there is
no underlying physical condition that is causing the
If spontaneous panic attacks are diagnosed,
then the doctor may prescribe an antidepressant
medication. Antianxiety medicines can be helpful as
Agoraphobia often responds to a form of
psychotherapy known as desensitization, which
gradually teaches patients to remain calm in normal situations so they can overcome their fears of the outside world.
To read Dr. Gary Small's Mind Health Report, click here.
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