There is much discussion among medical and psychiatric professionals regarding the use of beta blockers to stop panic attacks. It is helpful to understand the way beta blockers work in order to determine if they could possibly help to relieve a patients panic attacks and anxiety. Beta blockers are not just one type of medication, but rather a group of medicines that can be used to treat a variety of medical or psychiatric conditions.
How Do Beta Blockers Work?
Most frequently used in the treatment of high blood pressure, beta blockers work to effectively block the transmission of the stress hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine. Epinephrine is also referred to as adrenaline and along with norepinephrine, is responsible for increasing the heart rate and producing the “fight or flight” response in the nervous system. Beta blockers work to bind to and block the receptors found throughout the body that are activated by epinephrine and norepinephrine. By effectively blocking the receptors, the beta blocker prevents the body from reading the stress signals released by the production of epinephrine and norepinephrine and entering the panic stage of anxiety. The beta blocker acts as a barrier and prevents the body from launching into the fight or flight mode which is often associated with a panic attack.
The human body has two types of beta receptors. The first type of beta receptor, called beta-1, is located in the brain and in the heart. The second type of beta receptor is called the beta-2 receptor, and can be found in the brain, on blood vessels and also in the lungs. Beta blockers have been developed to block either the beta-1 receptor, the beta-2 receptor or in some cases, both receptors depending on the desired outcome. Certain medical situations require the blocking of a specific set of beta receptors or all of the receptors together.
How Can Beta Blockers Stop Panic Attacks?
So how can beta blockers stop panic attacks? Many times a physician will prescribe beta blockers to treat an anxiety disorder and the panic attacks that can often accompany it. Beta blockers work to control the onset of the symptoms associated with panic attacks such as; rapid heartbeat, trembling, faintness and sweating. A patient who suffers from panic attacks may find relief from some or all of the symptoms they usually experience during a panic attack through the use of a specific beta blocker. When the symptoms of a panic attack do not present themselves, the actual attack is mild or even non-existent. Some physicians will prescribe a beta blocker to a patient who suffers from panic attacks for a short duration, such as during a particularly stressful time, or long term, depending on the severity of the patients anxiety disorder. Simply put, beta blockers have the ability to stop panic attacks by eliminating or lessening the symptoms.
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