Perinatal Panic Disorder:

Experiencing a panic attack can be a terrifying event, especially for new mothers who have to simultaneously care for a baby while in the midst of an attack.  Panic disorder is thought to occur in 4-10 percent of women in the perinatal period.  Symptoms can occur just days after birth or any time within the following year postpartum.  There are 3 main themes: fear of going crazy, fear of losing control and fear of death.  Anxious thoughts often surround the health and safety of the new baby.  A new mom may be extremely fearful to be left alone with her baby for fear of having a panic attack and not being able to care for or attend to the baby.  Anticipatory anxiety, "worried about the worry" or experiencing anxiety at the thought of having another attack, can also be very debilitating.  

 Symptoms of a panic attack:

  • Inability to breathe or shortness of breath

  • Chest pain and tightening

  • Feeling like you’re being smothered or choked

  • Increased heart rate and palpitations

  • Excessive sweating

  • Hot flashes and chills

  • Shaking hands and body trembling

  • Numbness or tingling sensation in the extremities

  • Dizziness and lightheadedness

  • Feeling unsteady or like you will faint

  • Upset stomach and nausea

  • Feeling disconnected or detached from the world

  • A constant sense of danger or impending death

Treatment

 

Panic attacks are severely distressing events, but there is good news!  Anxiety and panic disorders are highly treatable. Effective treatment modalities include cognitive behavioral therapy with inclusion of mindfulness and relaxation techniques. Grounding techniques are great tools to use to help you "come back to reality" so to speak during a time of heightened anxiety or panic.  

 

If your symptoms persist, or significantly interfere with your daily functioning, your counselor may advise you to speak with your primary care physician or will provide a referral to see a psychiatrist for a medication evaluation. There are a number of highly effective presumption medications that can be used in the treatment of anxiety and panic disorders. Your medical provider will be able to provide education on the safest medications if you are currently breastfeeding (read my latest post on medications and breastfeeding here)

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