Panic attacks and pregnancy simultaneously create risks for the fetus. Stress and anxiety in the mother increase adrenaline and cortisol that can reduce oxygen to the fetus and contribute to risks during labor and delivery. The peak age of onset is in the 20s and more women than men get panic attacks. Therefore, the incidence of panic attacks and pregnancy together is elevated. The prevalence of panic attacks and pregnancy is about 1 to 2%.
In a retrospective study of first onset of panic attacks in childbearing age women, 10 times as many women reported their first panic attack occurred in the first trimester of a pregnancy. Other retrospective studies suggested that breast-feeding reduced the risk of panic disorder during the postnatal period and weaning increased the risk. If a woman has had panic attacks before pregnancy, studies have suggested that they may have worsening of the panic attacks during pregnancy and/or the postnatal period if the panic disorder was severe.
Medical causes of panic attacks need to be ruled out. These include thyroid disorders, anemia, preeclampsia, and pheochromocytoma. Comorbid psychiatric conditions frequently underlie panic disorder. These include mild bipolar disorder, depression, ADHD, other anxiety disorders such as PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder, or alcohol or drug abuse or withdrawal.
Panic attacks and pregnancy present challenges for treatment. Self-care strategies include elimination of caffeine, reduction of sleep deprivation, and relaxation techniques. Non-medication therapy with cognitive behavioral therapy with a professional therapist may be effective.
Medication treatment for panic attacks and pregnancy are often very helpful, but risk and benefit analysis include the following: as mentioned in the beginning there are medical, physical development, labor and delivery, postpartum, and later physical and mental developmental risks for the baby when the mother is having uncontrolled panic attacks during pregnancy, postpartum, and early childhood stages.
Now I will address some of the concerns of taking medication during panic attacks and pregnancy. Medications that help panic attacks the quickest are benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines include Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan, Valium, Librium, Tranxene, and Serax. There was at least one study suggesting an increased risk of cleft palate if Valium is used during pregnancy. That suggestion was about a 1% risk. SSRIs retrospective studies have not suggested any congenital malformations except possibly in Paxil. Hence, the other SSRIs are first choice. These include Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, and Lexapro. The drawback of the SSRIs are that they require one to two weeks of administration before getting any benefit and one to two months before getting full benefit against panic attacks. Withdrawal or discontinuation symptoms of any of these medicines in the baby after delivery are additional concerns.
Dr. Hege has 25 years of experience dealing with patients who have panic attacks and pregnancy simultaneously. Call today at 770 458-0007 for an evaluation for relief of your panic during the planning or managing of a pregnancy or postpartum, and for help deciding the most effective and safest treatment.