Questions & Answers: Does cognitive behavior therapy help panic attacks?

Questions & Answers: Does cognitive behavior therapy help panic attacks?

Q. How well does cognitive behavior therapy work for panic disorder?

A. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a good treatment for panic attacks — sudden, intense surges of anxiety accompanied by uncomfortable physical symptoms that resemble the "fight or flight" response evoked by real dangers. The heart rate increases, blood is routed to leg and arm muscles, and you feel aroused, alert, and afraid. It is extraordinarily distressing when these symptoms appear without an obvious cause. During a panic attack, people often think they are having a life-threatening medical crisis — for example a heart attack or respiratory illness.

Panic attacks are surprisingly common, affecting up to 4% of the population. Since attacks often come without warning, sufferers may spend much time and emotional energy anticipating and worrying about the next one. They may begin to avoid situations that they fear will trigger an attack and places (like airplanes and theaters) where a quick getaway would be impossible or embarrassing.

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