A panic attack is a sudden feeling of overwhelming anxiety or fear that lasts for several minutes. It's often accompanied by a pounding heart, sweating or the feeling that you can't think or breathe. It typically has no obvious cause.
Signs You Should Get Help for Panic Attacks
Panic attacks are the main symptom of panic disorder. You may have panic disorder if one or more of the following statements are true:
- You have repeated panic attacks
- Your panic attacks interfere with your work, relationships or other parts of your life
- You worry about when you'll have another panic attack
- You fear or avoid places where you've had panic attacks in the past
How to Get Help for Panic Attacks
- If you've never had a diagnosis of panic disorder: Make an appointment with your primary care provider, or find a new primary care provider at Rush. They can talk with you about your symptoms and recommend next steps. They may refer you to a psychologist (who can provide psychotherapy) or a psychiatrist (who can prescribe medications).
- If you have a diagnosis of panic disorder, or a referral to a psychiatrist or psychologist: If you're not sure whether to start with a psychologist or a psychiatrist, we can advise you. (Psychologists generally focus on providing psychotherapy. Psychiatrists generally focus on prescribing medications and medical procedures.)
Panic Attack Treatment at Rush
Panic attacks usually get better with medication, psychotherapy or both.
Primary care providers and psychiatrists (medical doctors who specialize in mental health) can prescribe medications that help with panic attacks. These typically include antidepressants, which have been shown to improve symptoms of panic disorder.
Your doctor will work closely with you to determine which medications and dosages work best for you.
Psychologists at Rush are experts in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a kind of psychotherapy proven to reduce panic attacks.
During CBT, your therapist (that is, your psychologist) will teach you how to anticipate and respond to panic attacks. By learning new ways to react when you feel one coming on, you can often prevent panic attacks from happening.
Rush Excellence in Panic Attack Care
- Coordinated, comprehensive care: Providers at Rush work together to make sure you have access to the right expertise at the right time. If your primary care provider or psychiatrist thinks you'll benefit from psychotherapy, they'll refer to you to a trusted psychologist. If your psychologist thinks you'll benefit from medications, they'll refer you to a trusted psychiatrist. No matter where you start, you'll have access to a whole team of experts in every aspect of mental health.
- Highly experienced therapists: Psychologists at Rush have treated thousands of patients using cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), the most effective type of therapy for most people with panic attacks. This experience — and the resulting expertise about what does and doesn't work — will inform your care.
- Support when you need it: Sometimes, after going away, panic attacks can come back during a stressful period of your life. To help with this, psychologists at Rush offer "booster sessions" of cognitive-behavioral therapy. If you need to, you can come back any time for one or a few sessions to get back on track.