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Can Panic Disorder Be Cured?

written by: Jean Scheid • edited by: Daniel P. McGoldrick • updated: 5/25/2011

People who suffer from panic or anxiety disorders often seek the answer to the question, can panic disorders be cured? To answer this question, Jean Scheid does some research with some surprising results.

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    Panic Room Many people with panic disorders often look for the impossible—a guaranteed cure for the condition. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says, “There is no cure for panic disorder, but most people can live a normal life when they receive treatment with medicine and/or therapy.”

    Right off the bat here, most people would think the NIMH would be the best resource to answer the question can panic disorder be cured? The statement by NIMH, although it doesn’t guarantee a cure, is also followed by somewhat of a “cure” in that medications and therapy allows for sufferers of this disorder to lead normal lives. But what if you don’t want to take prescription medications?

    I performed a Google search using the keywords “can panic disorder be cured” and got 399,000 hits. Of the first 10 hits, the third on the list came from the NIMH—the same linked provided above. The rest of them consisted of forum hits, articles written by non-mental health professionals, and natural cures for panic disorder.

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    A Look at “Cures”

    As a panic disorder sufferer myself, I do indeed feel “cured” to some extent. When my disease began 30 years ago, the initial drug treatments were sort of hits and misses, however, medications for anxiety disorders have been improved upon in the last 30 years.

    The NIMH says that 18% of American adults have panic or anxiety disorders and most are treated and cured through a mix of “antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, beta blockers and therapy.”

    For me, what was first the impossible (driving, crowds, leaving the house, social functions) is possible now that my doctors have found the right mix of meds for me along with therapy sessions from time to time; initially therapy was weekly. So, I do in fact; feel “cured” from my panic disorder.

    It’s not forefront on my mind each day and I’ve learned to look at it like any other disease that requires medication to stabilize the disease. Insulin for a diabetic or a statin drug for those with high cholesterol that can’t be controlled through diet or exercise; all fall in the same category when looking at the word “cure.”

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    Alternative “Cures”

    There are those (and I have a friend who published a book on the topic, Up Without Meds) that feel panic disorders can be cured without drugs or therapy—his concept is based more on controlling your life with mind exercises. Others turn to natural treatments, which are widely emphasized on the Internet, that include the simple, from taking herbs such as Chamomile or Valerian, to changing your diet—all of these explored “natural” or “alternative” treatment websites inevitably included a statement saying (in one way or another) that these (treatments) do not necessarily mean your panic disorder will go away completely. Ah, a disclaimer!

    This can give one pause—if changing your diet, looking at life stresses, breathing exercises, yoga and meditation really don’t guarantee your panic disorder will be cured, are these “cures” really cures?

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    A Psychiatrist’s Perspective on “Cures”

    Don't Panic Because I have moved to different cities throughout my adult life, it did become essential for me to find doctors and therapists in each city that became my new home. Dr. Robert Franklin, my current psychiatrist and Bonnie Kaufman, my current therapist (both have boat loads of experience in treating panic disorders) do agree with the NIMH—you can treat panic disorder, but you can’t “cure” it.

    In fact, my mental health team received a grant that enabled them to travel to family practitioners in our county to educate them on the safety in prescribing mental health and panic disorder medications. This grant was achieved based on those who need help for panic or anxiety disorders but have no health insurance that covers these types of medical conditions—hence they seek the advice of family practitioners who often fear prescribing these types of medications.

    My own family practitioner (even though he is married to my therapist) doesn’t feel comfortable prescribing mental health meds and refers his patients to his wife and Dr. Robert Franklin. If a person walked in and asked my psychiatrist if I was “cured” from my panic disorder, I think he would wisely say, “there is no real cure for panic disorder, but I believe my patient’s disorder is under control now that we’ve found the right combination of medications and therapy.” At least that’s what he offered when I posed this direct question to him.

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    Changing “Cure” to “Under Control”

    Those who seek alternative or natural cures (at least the people I’ve come to know) either really never had a true panic disorder or perhaps were depressed and through talk-therapy the depression slowly decreased and became manageable.

    I would warn against true panic disorder sufferers to use alternative therapies as an end-all to cure their panic disorder; especially with noted authorities at the NIMH who agree that panic disorders can’t be cured, but rather managed or kept “under control.”

    For those sufferers who feel they have no avenue (due to cost of lack of healthcare) but to try the alternative therapies, even the NIMH offers a toll-free number that can guide panic disorder sufferers to either free or sliding scale payments based on income to receive mental health treatment. People can also seek help from their county mental health centers.

    Unfortunately, I feel only when mental health disorders are no longer thought of “Crazy Aunt Alice in the Looney Bin,” more will not seek treatment in fear of embarrassment.

    So, can panic disorder be cured? Until the day comes when scientist can learn more about our most fantastic organ—the brain, I would say, they can’t be cured, but they can certainly be managed effectively.

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    References

    1. NIMH - When Fear Overwhelms: Panic Disorder (accessed 9/10/10) - http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/when-fear-overwhelms-panic-disorder/index.shtml#pub2
    2. Dr. Robert Franklin, M.D., M.P.H. (telephonic interview 9/9/10)
    3. Bonnie Kaufman, LISW (telephonic interview 9/9/10)

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