Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Panic Attacks And Menopause

First of all, let's agree that menopause is no walk in the park for many women. Their hormones are constantly fluctuating back and forth, they have hot flashes and mood swings, and they either can't sleep or they wake up with night sweats. Add in anxiety and panic attacks and many women will feel like they are going right over the edge. Panic attacks and menopause just don't mix well.

Simple anxiety is something everyone experiences on occasion. We all stress over projects at work or issues at home. But, panic attacks are anxiety attacks on steroids. A panic attack can make the sufferer feel like they are having a heart attack! The most common symptoms people have with panic attacks are racing heart beats or heart palpitations, chest pain or discomfort, a feeling of shortness of breath or choking, sweating, dizziness or feeling lightheaded or faint, and unnatural fear and anxiety. To get an idea of what a panic attack is like, think about how you feel when you are cut off by another car and narrowly miss hitting someone or something. Now, multiply that feeling tenfold!

Women who are experiencing a panic attack are likely to breathe shallowly and rapidly. Their racing heartbeat makes them more upset, and the terror and fear that something horrible is happening to them only increases their panic. Panic attacks are not triggered by something in the environment around the sufferer or by something they did; rather the attacks begin for no apparent reason and are as likely to affect someone who is sitting calmly while reading a book as they are to affect a woman in a stressful situation.

While people can be prone to panic attacks at any stage of life, women are more likely than men to suffer from them, and panic attacks and menopause seem to go hand in hand. Many women today are stressed out and overworked, and put themselves at the back of the line behind family and work needs. When women enter perimenopause and menopause, their bodies begin to have hormone imbalances. It is believed that these hormone imbalances, coupled with stress, are at least partially to blame for an increased susceptibility to panic attacks.

Many women will go through perimenopause and menopause, and panic attacks will only happen once or twice during the entire process. For other women, menopause and panic attacks will become a way of life until menopause is completed. For these women, medication may hold the answer to getting them through this troubling time of life.

Dr. Darvin Hege, an Atlanta, GA psychiatrist says "there are two classes of anti-panic medicines that are highly effective. They are Benzodiazepines (Group 1) which consist of Xanax (alprazolam), Klonopin (clonazepam), Ativan (lorazepam), Tranxene, Serax Valium, Librium, and others, and Antidepressant/Anti-panic medicines (Group 2) consisting of SSRI's (Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil, Celexa, Lexapro, and Luvox) and tricyclics (Tofranil, nortriptyline, protriptyline, Elavil, Sinequan, Surmontil, and others)." Dr. Hege further notes that "the most important difference between Group 1 and Group 2 is that medicines in Group 1 work much quicker, i.e. stop panic attacks in twenty minutes to a couple of weeks in worse cases. Group 2 requires 1-8 weeks to be effective. However, Group 1 can be physically addictive. Group 2 medicines are just as likely to stop all panic attacks as Group 1 after a lag period. The lag period is 1-3 weeks to the onset of reducing the severity and frequency of attacks. It takes Group 2, 3-10 weeks to totally stop all panic attacks in 70% of patients. Most people need to be on medicine for at least 1 year to significantly reduce the risk of relapse back into panic attacks soon after stopping the medicines."

Menopause and panic attacks are not something that women just have to "put up with". For those women who suffer relatively few attacks, natural therapies or stress reduction can help. Yoga, meditation, and exercise can help calm otherwise frantic lifestyles. Just the simple fact of knowing what a panic attack feels like can help women respond less negatively if they have one. For those women who can not deal with the anxiety and fear that a combination of menopause and panic attacks can bring on, there is relief in the form of counseling and medication.

Dr. Darvin Hege has 25 years of experience dealing with patients who have panic attacks and menopause simultaneously. He offers evening and weekend office hours at his Atlanta, GA practice. Call today at 770 458-0007 for an evaluation for relief of your panic attacks and for help deciding the most effective and safest treatment. 


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