Panic attack relief - using the power of the ‘placebo effect’
If you are reading this page of the website the chances are that you know someone close to you who suffers from panic disorder or suffer yourself. You will understand how debilitating panic attacks can be for the individual concerned and how distressing the disorder is to those close to a victim of panic. You're probably looking for panic attack relief - there is evidence that some sufferers of panic attacks can benefit from placebo treatment.
When a panic attack strikes intense physical and psychological symptoms present themselves to the victim. They are very frightening and often happen without warning and for no obvious reason. The panic attack victim may feel an overwhelming sense of terror and unreality, as if they are not part of the real world around them. Along with the psychological symptoms, the sufferer may experience physical manifestations like palpitations (irregular heart beats), sweating, shaking, being out of breath, choking sensations, chest pain and feeling billious. The physical symptoms then play on the mind and the victim often starts to catastrophise the symptoms - palpitations must be a heart attack, light headedness must be a stroke. A vicious cycle is put into play which can be very difficult to break free from.
The physical symptoms of a panic attack are caused by the body going into "fight or flight" mode in response to an environmental stimulus or dark thought that is perceived to be a threat. The body tries to take in more oxygen and breathing quickens. In response to the imagined threat the body releases hormones, most commonly adrenaline, causing the heart to beat faster and muscles to tense up. Reasons why panic attacks take hold of an individual can be for: stress, depression, lack of self-esteem or childhood trauma or many other triggers.
Recognised self help methods for panic relief include learning relaxation techniques, eating regular meals, exercising and avoiding caffeine, alcohol and smoking all of which can make panic attacks worse. These are fine but for some, developing coping strategies that help to relieve the anxiety might need some form of ritual - yoga, meditation or prayer. Using a placebo pill, even when the patient knows it is a placebo,1 can become part of a coping regime that can be undertaken quickly and easily in a public place.
Characteristics of panic disorder patients responding to placebo
In 2007 a paper published in Acta Psychiatrica Scandinaviea forty one panic disorder patients receiving placebo were investigated in a double-blind comparison of alprazolam, imipramine and placebo in panic disorder. A significantly higher drop-out rate was found in the placebo group than in the active treatment groups, but placebo response was found in 34% of the patients, defined as reduction of panic attacks to zero. The placebo treatment did not work for every patient but it did for a significant number - the paper hypothesised that those who responded well to the placebo showed more signs of realistic processing of internal and external stimuli and fewer signs of subjective distress than the non-responders. Responders would therefore probably be more responsive to psychotherapy than non-responders.NK Rosenberg, M Mellergard, R Rosenberg, P Beck, JO Ottosson - Characteristics of panic disorder patients responding to placebo
The placebo effect and panic attacks
At the University of Toronto a study was conducted to look into the “therapeutic response” of panic disorder in patients who experienced acute panic attacks. At the end of a four week study, both placebo patients and patients taking medication had normal sleep patterns, when compared to patients in the control group. The study randomly divided 27 patients into three groups. One group took anti-panic drug clonazepam, another took a placebo, and a third took nothing. All groups had their sleep patterns and behavior measured throughout the day. Interestingly, the placebo patients showed a decrease in depression that was not shown in the group taking clonazepam. This finding again points to a tremendous benefit of placebos: they work with our experience of the world, and don't require drugs with side effects.B Baker, Y Khaykin, G Devins, P Dorian, C Shapiro, D Newman
Response in panic disorder presenting with palpitations - University of Toronto