The Diagnosis and Management of Panic Disorder.

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The diagnosis of panic disorder without agoraphobia can very often be quite difficult because of the similarity with physical disorders particularly in the cardiac, gastrointestinal or neurological systems. The distinction must be made between panic attacks appearing as medical problems and medical problems appearing as panic attacks. Sometimes the diagnosis of panic attacks is made only after the medical diagnoses have been excluded. Panic disorder with agoraphobia however is much easier to detect if one carefully traces the historical development of agoraphobia and carefully distinguishes between the anxiety produced by agoraphobia and the panic attacks related to panic disorder. Panic disorder must also be distinguished from other anxiety disorders since the treatment for panic disorder still is quite specific. Once diagnosed however, the treatment of panic disorder without agoraphobia is rather simple. It involves the use of a benzodiazepine, either alprazolam or clonazopam, and perhaps the concomitant use of either imipramine or phenelzine sulfate for the rapid control of anxiety symptoms and continued treatment of the disorder. It is also very helpful to have the patient in psychotherapy either using a supportive or cognitive approach. If the patient has a panic disorder with agoraphobia, the pharmacological approach is the same, with the initiation of treatment using either alprazolam or clonazopam, but the psychotherapeutic approach is somewhat different in that behavioral therapy is emphasized rather than purely supportive or cognitive approaches. Given the fact that 1%-2% of the population is at risk for panic disorder, it is important that the condition be rapidly recognized and treated effectively since the currently available modalities of treatment result in almost total resolution of symptoms. Some individuals will remain on medication for several years while others will find it possible to decrease and/or discontinue their medications after only a few months or a few years. There is little excuse at this point for this disorder to be ineffectively diagnosed or treated.