Panic Attack Treatment

There are several treatment methods that may help to manage the symptoms of a panic attack. These range from simple techniques to regulate breathing and maintain control over anxiety to pharmacological management for immediate relief of an attack, as well as prevention.

If individuals tend to experience panic attacks on a regular basis or have a panic disorder, they may benefit from methods to prevent panic attacks in the future. These include cognitive-behavioral therapies (CBTs) and dietary changes to focus on nutritious foods that are not associated with an increased risk of attacks.

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Breathing exercises

Hyperventilation is a prominent symptom of the vast majority of panic attacks and often exacerbates other symptoms. As a result, practicing deep breathing exercises to aid in the process of rebalancing the blood oxygen and carbon dioxide levels can be beneficial.

An example of a breathing exercise is a 5-2-5 count. This involves using the diaphragm and stomach to inhale for 5 seconds, then holding the breath for 2 seconds. The exhalation should be slow and controlled over another 5 seconds.

In this exercise, it is important that the chest is not used to breathe and, instead, the stomach should be coming out. This cycle of breathing should be repeated twice, followed by 5 regular breaths. This helps to relax the heart rate whilst continuing with regular breathing. Other breathing techniques include extending the exhalation breath by counting or humming.

Previously, breathing into a paper bag had been recommended as a technique to address hyperventilation, although currently controlled breathing is seen as the superior technique. This is largely because the paper bag reduces the oxygen level to the bloodstream, which may have potentially dangerous effects.

Pharmacological management

Anxiolytic drugs, such as benzodiazepines, have been the most commonly used medication for anxiety-related stress for the past 40 years and continues to be a popular option.

Using these medications at a low dose can often alleviate the anxiety, agitation, and fear associated with panic attacks due to their action on the receptors in the amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex, and insula.

Benzodiazepines can be administered during a panic attack to provide relief from an acute attack. They do not address the underlying fear but address the immediate symptoms of the attack within about 15 minutes.


It is widely accepted by medical professionals that cognitive and behavioral therapies are the treatment of choice for individuals with a panic disorder, whilst medication is appropriate in selected cases.

Therapy usually begins with the provision of information, as many individuals find that they benefit significantly from understanding what a panic disorder is and what they can do. Additionally, many feel reassured by the fact that they are not alone in suffering from the condition.

It is quite common for people to believe that they are going crazy or that an attack may induce a heart attack. As a result, making sure that people understand that this is not the case and helping them to view attacks in a more realistic and positive way using cognitive restructuring can be beneficial.

Dietary changes

Some foods and beverages are associated with a higher chance of experiencing a panic attack. For example, caffeine is known to induce panic attacks in some people, which is likely due to the sympathetic effect it has on the body.

There is also a range of drugs that have the potential to cause panic attacks. As a result, it is worthwhile to consider the medical history of any individual that experiences a panic attack and if any current medications may be influencing this.


Further Reading

Last Updated: May 18, 2023

Yolanda Smith

Written by

Yolanda Smith

Yolanda graduated with a Bachelor of Pharmacy at the University of South Australia and has experience working in both Australia and Italy. She is passionate about how medicine, diet and lifestyle affect our health and enjoys helping people understand this. In her spare time she loves to explore the world and learn about new cultures and languages.


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