By Yolanda Smith, BPharm
Women are more commonly affected by panic attacks than men and this distinction becomes more evident with age, particularly when women reach the age of menopause. This is thought to be because the hormonal changes that occur around the age of menopause are associated to a higher risk of experiencing panic attacks.
Hormonal Changes at Menopause
As women approach the end of their reproductive years their menstrual cycle begins to change and eventual menopause will occur marking the definitive end to reproduction.
This is accompanied by significant changes in hormone levels within the body, particularly in respect to estrogen and progesterone. It has been speculated that these changes may be responsible for the increased incidence of panic attacks, but currently available research has not been able to show this is the causative factor.
Many women experience a panic attack for the first time around menopause and wish to avoid future attacks in the future if it is possible. The attacks tend to be associated with stressful life events, medical comorbidity, and functional impairment. As a result, managing these factors is likely to have a positive effect on the attacks that occur.
It is important for a medical professional to discuss the individual circumstances in the woman’s life that may be contributing towards panic attacks. Particular situations in life can often have a big impact on the likelihood that a woman will have an attack and there may be a particular place that tends to trigger an attack.
Managing Panic Attacks
When a panic attack does occur, it is important for it to be managed sufficiently. This is done in the same whether, regardless of the age or gender of the individual.
The first step is to control the breathing of the woman. Hyperventilation is a common symptom of panic attack and is responsible for many other resulting symptoms. Controlling or slowing down the breathing of someone having a panic attack is useful for managing the symptoms of an acute attack. Counting to 5 for each inhalation or exhalation, or evening humming can help to do this.
Some medications such as benzodiazepines may also have a role to play. These work on the sympathetic nervous system to help lessen anxiety and can work to provide almost immediate relief within about 15 minutes.
Additionally, as the menopause is related to hormonal changes that may possibly precipitate panic attack, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may help to prevent attacks from occurring in the future. This should, of course, be balanced against the risk that HRT may present, including that of stroke and breast cancer.
Menopausal Women and Cardiovascular Risk
Additionally, some recent research has found a link between menopausal women that suffer from panic attacks and a higher risk of cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or a stroke.
In fact, some medical researchers believe that the symptoms of panic attacks, particularly chest pain and shortness of breath are, in fact, signs of cardiovascular disease that is currently undiagnosed. It is also possible that these symptoms cause extra pressure to be placed on the cardiovascular system that may have long-term repercussions.
However, there is not sufficient research to support the hypothesis that patients who experience a single panic attack are more likely to display signs of immediate damage to the heart. Additionally, there has not been adequate research to claim that panic disorders are causative of cardiovascular events like stroke.
Last Updated: Apr 9, 2015