People who suffer from panic attacks say it feels like you're losing control, having a heart attack, or even dying. The good news is that many doctors believe patients can find relief through treatment.
From the moment we are born, breathing is automatic, but scientists say just because it happens subconsciously, doesn't mean it's balanced.
"Many of us, if we have panic or trauma or even just high-stress anxiety in our bodies, we tend to be hyper-vigilant in some way," said Charlotte Mulloy, a behavioral health coach who helps people with PTSD and panic disorder learn how to regulate breathing patterns. "When we have vigilance in our body, our breath becomes vigilant too. For folks that have panic disorder or PTSD or panic attacks, there's some sort of imbalance in their carbon dioxide that causes dysregulated breathing."
Treatment for PTSD often includes talk therapy or medication, but there's another product on the market that is intended to prevent panic attacks in the first place. It's a four-week program on a tablet that aims to help patients breathe more smoothly so they get a better balance of oxygen and CO2. A coach like Mulloy guides you through each session live. She works for the company that created Freespira.
"You do two, 17-minute sessions a day and you have a tablet right in front of you providing feedback during those sessions," Mulloy said. "The first two minutes is the opportunity just to sit down and get settled and be ready for your breathing session. Then, the next 10 minutes, they're actually listening to these tones that are in a very specific rhythm. And then, the last five minutes of the breathing session, the tones go away, but you sit there and practice. So, that way you can actually learn the skill and take it out in the world with you."
Freespira's CEO Joe Perekupka says the device was born out of research from Stanford University.
"We have multiple peer-reviewed publications that back up the claims that we make from a clinical significance standpoint," Perekupka said.
Studies show that 86% of patients who used Freespira were panic attack-free as soon as they finished their four-week treatment. Seventy-three percent were still panic attack-free 12 months later.
"What really makes Freespira unique is our ability to provide treatment to patients directly at home," Perekupka said.
If your doctor decides this treatment is right for you, you'll want to see if it's covered by your insurance.
"Today, we have over 4,000 patients that have been treated, and we see that continually growing as we get more and more insurance companies that are willing to cover Freespira," Perekupka said.
If you think you might be suffering from PTSD or panic disorder, ask your doctor what treatment might be right for you.
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