Dr. Gary Small, M.D., is a professor of psychiatry and aging and director of the UCLA Longevity Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Dr. Small, one the nations top brain health experts, frequently appears on The Today Show, Good Morning America, and The Dr. Oz Show. He is co-author with his wife Gigi Vorgan of many popular books, including The New York Times best-seller, The Memory Bible, and The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program. He is author of The Mind Health Report newsletter.

Dr. Gary Small, M.D.

Help for Panic Attacks

Tuesday, 10 Sep 2013 05:43 PM

By Dr. Small

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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 as agoraphobia.

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 symptoms.

If spontaneous panic attacks are diagnosed, then the doctor may prescribe an antidepressant medication. Antianxiety medicines can be helpful as well.

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.

© 2014 NewsmaxHealth. All rights reserved.

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