Panic Attacks A Breath of Relief

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Panic attacks can be reduced through the use of breathing therapy it has been determined through a new study.

The study found that breathing therapy is more effective than the traditional forms of therapy used for panic attack sufferers, such as cognitive therapy.

The new therapy method has seen success in reducing the dual symptoms of hyperventilation and panic.

Panic disorder expert Alicia E. Meuret of the Southern Methodist University of Dallas is a part of the biological-behavioural treatment program in which the study was conducted. The programme is otherwise known as Capnometry- Assisted – Respiratory – Training, or CART.

Learning to Breath

The breathing therapy (CART) is designed to assist patients in learning how to breathe in a way that can lead to the reversal of hyperventilation. This reverse of the stressful condition is actually a very comfortable state, where the low levels of carbon dioxide are at abnormal levels in the blood stream.

Hyperventilation is very common in patients with panic disorders, and is a state where excessive breathing occurs, it stems from beginning to breathe deeply or rapidly. It was determined by the scientists in this study that the changes in panic symptoms are caused by the therapeutic change in carbon dioxide levels and not according to Meuret, vice versa.

Twice Daily Dose

The exercises were carried out twice daily, and in the treatment it was the simplest breathing techniques defined by CART that were practiced. A capnometer was used. This is a device that gave the scientists feedback on the CO2 levels in the patient. The goal of the exercises being to make the symptoms associated with chronic and acute hyper-ventilation as well as the condition itself disappear.

Slower and Shallower

The main point of focus was not only to breathe much slower, but also to breathe in a shallower way. It is often believed that taking a deep breath is good for us, yet in fact breathing in deeply for sufferers actually worsens the hyperventilation and the physical symptoms.

Meuret reports that the bulk of panic disorder patients are terrified of shortness of breath or dizziness; the physical symptoms. Whilst the effects of the breathing did not affect the psychology that leads to this fear, it did effectively reduce hyperventilation. So too the scientists determined that cognitive therapy brought little or no change in respiratory physiology.

CART V’s Cognitive Therapy

In the study the CART system was pitted against the more conventional cognitive technique. The cognitive means focuses on the psychology of the patient with the intention of reversing the way their thoughts work, and the trigger they play in bringing on panic attacks or hyperventilation.

The study involved 41 participants and they were split into two groups. The breathing or the cognitive therapy enacted specific to one group or the other. Amongst the 41 there were sufferers of agoraphobia (trapped feelings) and sufferers of panic attacks.

Both Effective

Meuret has declared that both systems of treatment were in fact effective in the reduction of symptoms, it was noted however that CART was the only one of the pair of treatments that managed to actively reverse hyperventilation.

It was found also that the treatment helped the patients address the terror they feel when panic sets in. The study included a control trial that was randomised in order to give a true measure of CART’s effectiveness. In that the patients were now able to reverse hyperventilation it was now possible for the patients to also reduce panic symptoms.

New Approach

In cognitive therapy however it was determined that when a shortness of breath occurred there should be a new approach to beating the fear held by the patients. The researchers challenged the assumption on which the fear is based, and asked the question’ how often the person actually suffocated during the panic attack?’ The intention behind this cognitive therapy technique being to reverse the way the patient thought about the attack.


The process was a challenge for many of the patients because whilst it recognised that there was a symptom, the technique represented that the symptom should not be seen as a problem. Whilst CART is able to tell researchers when CO2 levels are very low in the patient, it is also giving the patient the power to effect a change on the symptom itself.

False Assumption

The study ascertained for the first time that the assumption that if a person worries less about the issue then it will be less severe is actually incorrect. In truth it was found that hyperventilation will remain unchanged by thinking this way. The study agreed that there are severe health outcomes occurring in the individual as a result of hyperventilation.

Big Plans

There are plans afoot to take the CART programme into the community at large, in particular it is intended to bring the technique into the ethnic minorities. The reason they are approaching ethnic minorities being that due to CART being a physical exercise, it will be more readily accepted than a cognitive form of treatment or intellectual method.

This physical nature makes it accessible to those with low education levels, and divergent cultural backgrounds. There are intentions too to bring the study on further, and work with those who suffer from asthma or who have a fear of blood.

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