What is Reboxetine?

Introduction

Reboxetine, sold under the brand name Edronax among others, is a drug of the norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (NRI) class, marketed as an antidepressant by Pfizer for use in the treatment of major depression, although it has also been used off-label for panic disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

It is approved for use in many countries worldwide, but has not been approved for use in the United States. Although its effectiveness as an antidepressant has been challenged in multiple published reports, its popularity has continued to increase.

Brief History

Reboxetine was discovered at Farmitalia-Carlo Erba and was first published in 1984; Farmitalia did the first clinical studies. Farmitalia was acquired by Pharmacia in 1993, and Pharmacia in turn was acquired by Pfizer in 2003.

It was first approved in Europe in 1997 and was provisionally approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1999. In 2001 the FDA issued Pfizer a “not approvable” letter based on clinical trials the FDA had required when it issued the preliminary approval letter.

In 2010, the German Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQEHC) published results of a meta-analysis of clinical trial data for reboxetine in acute depression, which included data on about 3,000 subjects that Pfizer had never published but had mentioned; IQEHC had combed through Pfizer’s publications and reboxetine approvals and had determined this data was missing from the publication record. The analysis of the complete data set yielded a result that reboxetine was not more effective than placebo but had more side effects than placebo and more than fluoxetine; the paper led to widespread and sharp criticism of Pfizer, and stronger calls for publication of all clinical trial data.

Medical Uses

Major Depressive Disorder

There has been much debate as to whether reboxetine is more efficacious than placebo in the treatment of depression. According to a 2009 meta-analysis of 12 second-generation antidepressants, reboxetine was no more effective than placebo, and was “significantly less” effective, and less acceptable, than the other drugs in treating the acute-phase of adults with unipolar major depression.

The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said in September 2011 that the study had several limitations, and that “Overall the balance of benefits and risks for reboxetine remains positive in its authorised indication.” A UK and Europe-wide review of available efficacy and safety data has confirmed that reboxetine has benefit over placebo in its authorised indication. Efficacy was clearly shown in patients with severe or very severe depression.

According to a systematic review and meta-analysis by IQWiG, including unpublished data, published data on reboxetine overestimated the benefit of reboxetine versus placebo by up to 115% and reboxetine versus SSRIs by up to 23%, and also underestimated harm, concluding that reboxetine was an ineffective and potentially harmful antidepressant. The study also showed that nearly three quarters of the data on patients who took part in trials of reboxetine had not been published by Pfizer.

A 2018 systematic review and network meta-analysis comparing the efficacy and acceptability of 21 antidepressant drugs concluded that reboxetine was significantly less efficacious than other antidepressants tested.

Panic Disorder

In a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled trial reboxetine significantly improved the symptoms of panic disorder. Another randomised controlled trial that compared paroxetine to reboxetine found that paroxetine significantly outperformed reboxetine as a treatment for panic disorder. Despite this discouraging finding an open-label trial examining the efficacy of reboxetine in SSRI-resistant panic disorder demonstrated significant benefit from reboxetine treatment.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Numerous clinical trials have provided support for the efficacy of reboxetine in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in both the short and long-term and in both children/adolescents and adults.

Other Uses

A case series and open-label pilot study demonstrated the efficacy of reboxetine in treating bulimia nervosa. Reboxetine may also have efficacy in treating therapy-resistant paediatric nocturnal enuresis. A pilot study demonstrated the efficacy of reboxetine in the treatment of narcolepsy. Individual trials and meta-analysis suggest that reboxetine can attenuate antipsychotic-induced weight gain and there is some evidence of a benefit on depressive, and possibly other symptoms of schizophrenia when added to antipsychotic treatment.

Contraindications

Reboxetine is contraindicated in narrow-angle glaucoma, cardiovascular disease, epilepsy, bipolar disorder, urinary retention, prostatic hypertrophy, patients concomitantly on MAOIs and those hypersensitive to reboxetine or any of its excipients.

Adverse Effects

Very common (>10% incidence) adverse effects include insomnia, dizziness, dry mouth, constipation, nausea, and excessive sweating.

Common (1-10%) adverse effects include loss of appetite, agitation, anxiety, headache, restlessness, tingling sensations, distorted sense of taste, difficulty with seeing near or far (problems with accommodation), fast heart beat, heart palpitations, relaxing of blood vessels leading to low blood pressure, high blood pressure, vomiting, rash, sensation of incomplete bladder emptying, urinary tract infection, painful or difficult urination, urinary retention, erectile dysfunction, ejaculatory pain or delay, and chills.

A 2009 meta-analysis found that reboxetine was significantly less well tolerated than the other 11 second-generation antidepressants compared in the analysis

Overdose

Reboxetine is considered a relatively low-risk antidepressant in overdose.[26] The symptoms are as follows:

  • Sweating.
  • Tachycardia.
  • Changes in blood pressure.

Interactions

Because of its reliance on CYP3A4, reboxetine O-desethylation is markedly inhibited by papaverine and ketoconazole. It weakly inhibits CYP2D6 and CYP3A4.[25] Reboxetine is an intermediate-level inhibitor of P-glycoprotein, which gives it the potential to interact with ciclosporin, tacrolimus, paroxetine, sertraline, quinidine, fluoxetine, fluvoxamine.

Pharmacology

Pharmacodynamics

Reboxetine is a fairly selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (NRI), with approximately 20-fold selectivity for the norepinephrine transporter (NET) over the serotonin transporter (SERT). Despite this selectivity, reboxetine does slightly inhibit the reuptake of serotonin at therapeutic doses. It does not interact with or inhibit the dopamine transporter (DAT).

Reboxetine has been found to inhibit both brain and cardiac GIRKs, a characteristic it shares with the NRI atomoxetine.

Pharmacokinetics

Both the (R,R)-(–) and (S,S)-(+)-enantiomers of reboxetine are predominantly metabolised by the CYP3A4 isoenzyme. The primary metabolite of reboxetine is O-desethylreboxetine, and there are also three minor metabolites – Phenol A, Phenol B, and UK1, Phenol B being the most minor

Chemistry

Reboxetine has two chiral centres. Thus, four stereoisomers may exist, the (R,R)-, (S,S)-, (R,S)-, and (S,R)-isomers. The active ingredient of reboxetine is a racemic mixture of two enantiomers, the (R,R)-(–)- and (S,S)-(+)-isomer.

Society and Culture

Brand Names

Edronax is the brand name of reboxetine in every English-speaking country that has approved it for clinical use. Brand names include (where † denotes a product that is no longer marketed):

  • Davedax (IT).
  • Edronax (AU, AT, BE, CZ, DK, FI, DE, IE, IL, IT, MX, NZ, NO, PH, PL, PT, ZA, SE, CH, TH, TR, UK).
  • Irenor (ES).
  • Norebox (ES).
  • Prolift (AR,† BR, CL, VE†).
  • Solvex (DE).
  • Yeluoshu (CN).
  • Zuolexin (CN).

What is a Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitor?

Introduction

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) are a class of drugs that inhibit the activity of one or both monoamine oxidase enzymes: monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A) and monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B).

They are best known as highly efficacious antidepressants, as well as effective therapeutic agents for panic disorder and social phobia. They are particularly effective in treatment-resistant depression and atypical depression. They are also used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and several other disorders.

Reversible inhibitors of monoamine oxidase A (RIMAs) are a subclass of MAOIs that selectively and reversibly inhibit the MAO-A enzyme. RIMAs are used clinically in the treatment of depression and dysthymia. Due to their reversibility, they are safer in single-drug overdose than the older, irreversible MAOIs, and weaker in increasing the monoamines important in depressive disorder. RIMAs have not gained widespread market share in the United States.

New research into MAOIs indicates that much of the concern over their supposed dangerous dietary side effects stems from misconceptions and misinformation, and that they are still underutilised despite demonstrated efficacy. New research also questions the validity of the perceived severity of dietary reactions, which has been based on outdated research. Despite this, many psychiatrists, who have little or no knowledge of and experience with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (and are thus unaware of their significant benefits), still reserve them as a last line of treatment, used only when other classes of antidepressant drugs (for example, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants) have failed.

Brief History

MAOIs started off due to the serendipitous discovery that iproniazid was a potent MAO inhibitor (MAOI). Originally intended for the treatment of tuberculosis, in 1952, iproniazid’s antidepressant properties were discovered when researchers noted that the depressed patients given iproniazid experienced a relief of their depression. Subsequent in vitro work led to the discovery that it inhibited MAO and eventually to the monoamine theory of depression. MAOIs became widely used as antidepressants in the early 1950s. The discovery of the 2 isoenzymes of MAO has led to the development of selective MAOIs that may have a more favourable side-effect profile.

The older MAOIs’ heyday was mostly between the years 1957 and 1970. The initial popularity of the ‘classic’ non-selective irreversible MAO inhibitors began to wane due to their serious interactions with sympathomimetic drugs and tyramine-containing foods that could lead to dangerous hypertensive emergencies. As a result, the use by medical practitioners of these older MAOIs declined. When scientists discovered that there are two different MAO enzymes (MAO-A and MAO-B), they developed selective compounds for MAO-B, (for example, selegiline, which is used for Parkinson’s disease), to reduce the side-effects and serious interactions. Further improvement occurred with the development of compounds (moclobemide and toloxatone) that not only are selective but cause reversible MAO-A inhibition and a reduction in dietary and drug interactions. Moclobemide, was the first reversible inhibitor of MAO-A to enter widespread clinical practice.

A transdermal patch form of the MAOI selegiline, called Emsam, was approved for use in depression by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on 28 February 2006.

Medical Uses

MAOIs have been found to be effective in the treatment of panic disorder with agoraphobia, social phobia, atypical depression or mixed anxiety disorder and depression, bulimia, and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as borderline personality disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). MAOIs appear to be particularly effective in the management of bipolar depression according to a retrospective-analysis from 2009. There are reports of MAOI efficacy in OCD, trichotillomania, body dysmorphic disorder, and avoidant personality disorder, but these reports are from uncontrolled case reports.

MAOIs can also be used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease by targeting MAO-B in particular (therefore affecting dopaminergic neurons), as well as providing an alternative for migraine prophylaxis. Inhibition of both MAO-A and MAO-B is used in the treatment of clinical depression and anxiety.

MAOIs appear to be particularly indicated for outpatients with dysthymia complicated by panic disorder or hysteroid dysphoria.

Newer MAOIs such as selegiline (typically used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease) and the reversible MAOI moclobemide provide a safer alternative and are now sometimes used as first-line therapy.

Side Effects

Hypertensive Crisis

People taking MAOIs generally need to change their diets to limit or avoid foods and beverages containing tyramine, which is found in products such as cheese, soy sauce, and salami. If large amounts of tyramine are consumed, they may suffer a hypertensive crisis, which can be fatal. Examples of foods and beverages with potentially high levels of tyramine include animal liver and fermented substances, such as alcoholic beverages and aged cheeses. Excessive concentrations of tyramine in blood plasma can lead to hypertensive crisis by increasing the release of norepinephrine (NE), which causes blood vessels to constrict by activating alpha-1 adrenergic receptors. Ordinarily, MAO-A would destroy the excess NE; when MAO-A is inhibited, however, NE levels get too high, leading to dangerous increases in blood pressure.

RIMAs are displaced from MAO-A in the presence of tyramine, rather than inhibiting its breakdown in the liver as general MAOIs do. Additionally, MAO-B remains free and continues to metabolise tyramine in the stomach, although this is less significant than the liver action. Thus, RIMAs are unlikely to elicit tyramine-mediated hypertensive crisis; moreover, dietary modifications are not usually necessary when taking a reversible inhibitor of MAO-A (i.e. moclobemide) or low doses of selective MAO-B inhibitors (e.g. selegiline 6 mg/24 hours transdermal patch).

Drug Interactions

The most significant risk associated with the use of MAOIs is the potential for drug interactions with over-the-counter, prescription, or illegally obtained medications, and some dietary supplements (e.g. St. John’s wort, tryptophan). It is vital that a doctor supervise such combinations to avoid adverse reactions. For this reason, many users carry an MAOI-card, which lets emergency medical personnel know what drugs to avoid (e.g. adrenaline (epinephrine) dosage should be reduced by 75%, and duration is extended).

Tryptophan supplements should not be consumed with MAOIs as the potentially fatal serotonin syndrome may result.

MAOIs should not be combined with other psychoactive substances (antidepressants, painkillers, stimulants, including prescribed, OTC and illegally acquired drugs, etc.) except under expert care. Certain combinations can cause lethal reactions, common examples including SSRIs, tricyclics, MDMA, meperidine, tramadol, and dextromethorphan. Drugs that affect the release or reuptake of epinephrine, norepinephrine, or dopamine typically need to be administered at lower doses due to the resulting potentiated and prolonged effect. MAOIs also interact with tobacco-containing products (e.g. cigarettes) and may potentiate the effects of certain compounds in tobacco. This may be reflected in the difficulty of smoking cessation, as tobacco contains naturally occurring MAOI compounds in addition to the nicotine.

While safer than general MAOIs, RIMAs still possess significant and potentially serious drug interactions with many common drugs; in particular, they can cause serotonin syndrome or hypertensive crisis when combined with almost any antidepressant or stimulant, common migraine medications, certain herbs, or most cold medicines (including decongestants, antihistamines, and cough syrup).

Ocular alpha-2 agonists such as brimonidine and apraclonidine are glaucoma medications which reduce intraocular pressure by decreasing aqueous production. These alpha-2 agonists should not be given with oral MAOIs due to the risk of hypertensive crisis.

Withdrawal

Antidepressants including MAOIs have some dependence-producing effects, the most notable one being a discontinuation syndrome, which may be severe especially if MAOIs are discontinued abruptly or too rapidly. The dependence-producing potential of MAOIs or antidepressants in general is not as significant as benzodiazepines, however. Discontinuation symptoms can be managed by a gradual reduction in dosage over a period of weeks, months or years to minimise or prevent withdrawal symptoms.

MAOIs, as with most antidepressant medication, may not alter the course of the disorder in a significant, permanent way, so it is possible that discontinuation can return the patient to the pre-treatment state. This consideration complicates prescribing between a MAOI and a SSRI, because it is necessary to clear the system completely of one drug before starting another. One physician organisation recommends the dose to be tapered down over a minimum of four weeks, followed by a two week washout period. The result is that a depressed patient will have to bear the depression without chemical help during the drug-free interval. This may be preferable to risking the effects of an interaction between the two drugs.

Interactions

The MAOIs are infamous for their numerous drug interactions, including the following kinds of substances:

  • Substances that are metabolised by monoamine oxidase, as they can be boosted by up to several-fold.
  • Substances that increase serotonin, norepinephrine, or dopamine activity, as too much of any of these neurochemicals can result in severe acute consequences, including serotonin syndrome, hypertensive crisis, and psychosis, respectively.

Such substances that can react with MAOIs include:

  • Phenethylamines: 2C-B, mescaline, phenethylamine (PEA), etc.
    • Amphetamines: amphetamine, MDMA, dextroamphetamine, methamphetamine, DOM, etc.
  • Tryptamines: DMT (MAOIs prevent oxidisation of DMT in the digestive tract, which renders it biologically inert. This allows it to be absorbed in the stomach and small intestine, allowing one to experience the effects of DMT by taking it orally i.e. by Ayahuasca. This anti-oxidation effect can also be observed when administering DMT by inhalation, and it can serve to potentiate the length of the experience.)
  • Norepinephrine, and/or dopamine reuptake inhibitors:
    • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): desvenlafaxine, duloxetine, milnacipran, venlafaxine.
    • Norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs): amineptine, bupropion, methylphenidate, nomifensine.
    • Norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (NRIs): atomoxetine, mazindol, reboxetine.
    • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs): amitriptyline, butriptyline, clomipramine, desipramine, dosulepin, doxepin, imipramine, lofepramine, nortriptyline, protriptyline, trimipramine.
    • Tetracyclic antidepressants (TeCAs): amoxapine, maprotiline.
    • Phenylpiperidine derivative opioids: meperidine/pethidine, tramadol, methadone, fentanyl, dextropropoxyphene, propoxyphene.
    • Others: brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine, cocaine, cyclobenzaprine, dextromethorphan (DXM), ketamine, MDPV, nefazodone, phencyclidine (PCP), pheniramine, sibutramine, trazodone
  • Serotonin, norepinephrine, and/or dopamine releasers: 4-methylaminorex (4-MAR), amphetamine, benzphetamine, cathine, cathinone, diethylcathinone, ephedrine, levmetamfetamine, lisdexamfetamine, MDMA (“Ecstasy”), methamphetamine, pemoline, phendimetrazine, phenethylamine (PEA), phentermine, propylhexedrine, pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine, tyramine.
  • Local and general anaesthetic in surgery and dentistry, in particular those containing epinephrine. There is no universally taught or accepted practice regarding dentistry and use of MAOIs such as phenelzine, and therefore it is vital to inform all clinicians, especially dentists, of the potential effect of MAOIs and local anaesthesia. In preparation for dental work, withdrawal from phenelzine is specifically advised; since this takes two weeks, however, it is not always a desirable or practical option. Dentists using local anaesthesia are advised to use a non-epinephrine anaesthetic such as mepivacaine at a level of 3%. Specific attention should be paid to blood pressure during the procedure, and the level of the anaesthetic should be regularly and appropriately topped-up, for non-epinephrine anaesthetics take longer to come into effect and wear off faster. Patients taking phenelzine are advised to notify their psychiatrist prior to any dental treatment.
  • Certain other supplements may exhibit below-therapeutic-level MAOI activity: Hypericum perforatum (“St John’s wort”), inositol, Rhodiola rosea, S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe).
  • Antibiotics such as linezolid.
  • Other monoamine oxidase inhibitors.

Mechanism of Action

MAOIs act by inhibiting the activity of monoamine oxidase, thus preventing the breakdown of monoamine neurotransmitters and thereby increasing their availability. There are two isoforms of monoamine oxidase, MAO-A and MAO-B. MAO-A preferentially deaminates serotonin, melatonin, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. MAO-B preferentially deaminates phenethylamine and certain other trace amines; in contrast, MAO-A preferentially deaminates other trace amines, like tyramine, whereas dopamine is equally deaminated by both types.

Reversibility

The early MAOIs covalently bound to the monoamine oxidase enzymes, thus inhibiting them irreversibly; the bound enzyme could not function and thus enzyme activity was blocked until the cell made new enzymes. The enzymes turn over approximately every two weeks. A few newer MAOIs, a notable one being moclobemide, are reversible, meaning that they are able to detach from the enzyme to facilitate usual catabolism of the substrate. The level of inhibition in this way is governed by the concentrations of the substrate and the MAOI.

Harmaline found in Peganum harmala, Banisteriopsis caapi, and Passiflora incarnata is a reversible inhibitor of monoamine oxidase A (RIMA).

Selectivity

In addition to reversibility, MAOIs differ by their selectivity of the MAO enzyme subtype. Some MAOIs inhibit both MAO-A and MAO-B equally, other MAOIs have been developed to target one over the other.

MAO-A inhibition reduces the breakdown of primarily serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine; selective inhibition of MAO-A allows for tyramine to be metabolised via MAO-B. Agents that act on serotonin if taken with another serotonin-enhancing agent may result in a potentially fatal interaction called serotonin syndrome or with irreversible and unselective inhibitors (such as older MAOIs), of MAO a hypertensive crisis as a result of tyramine food interactions is particularly problematic with older MAOIs. Tyramine is broken down by MAO-A and MAO-B, therefore inhibiting this action may result in its excessive build-up, so diet must be monitored for tyramine intake.

MAO-B inhibition reduces the breakdown mainly of dopamine and phenethylamine so there are no dietary restrictions associated with this. MAO-B would also metabolize tyramine, as the only differences between dopamine, phenethylamine, and tyramine are two phenylhydroxyl groups on carbons 3 and 4. The 4-OH would not be a steric hindrance to MAO-B on tyramine. Selegiline is selective for MAO-B at low doses, but non-selective at higher doses.

List of MAO Inhibiting Drugs

Marketed MAOIs

  • Nonselective MAO-A/MAO-B inhibitors.
    • Hydrazine (antidepressant).
      • Isocarboxazid (Marplan).
      • Hydracarbazine.
      • Phenelzine (Nardil).
    • Non-hydrazines.
      • Tranylcypromine (Parnate, Jatrosom).
  • Selective MAO-A inhibitors.
    • Bifemelane (Alnert, Celeport) (available in Japan).
    • Moclobemide (Aurorix, Manerix).
    • Pirlindole (Pirazidol) (available in Russia).
  • Selective MAO-B inhibitors.
    • Rasagiline (Azilect).
    • Selegiline (Deprenyl, Eldepryl, Emsam, Zelapar).
    • Safinamide (Xadago).

Linezolid is an antibiotic drug with weak, reversible MAO-inhibiting activity.

Methylene blue, the antidote indicated for drug-induced methemoglobinemia, among a plethora of other off-label uses, is a highly potent, reversible MAO inhibitor.

MAOIs that have been Withdrawn from the Market

  • Nonselective MAO-A/MAO-B inhibitors:
    • Hydrazines.
      • Benmoxin (Nerusil, Neuralex).
      • Iproclozide (Sursum).
      • Iproniazid (Marsilid, Iprozid, Ipronid, Rivivol, Propilniazida) (discontinued worldwide except for France).
      • Mebanazine (Actomol).
      • Nialamide (Niamid).
      • Octamoxin (Ximaol, Nimaol).
      • Pheniprazine (Catron).
      • Phenoxypropazine (Drazine).
      • Pivalylbenzhydrazine (Tersavid).
      • Safrazine (Safra) (discontinued worldwide except for Japan).
    • Non-hydrazines.
      • Caroxazone (Surodil, Timostenil).
  • Selective MAO-A inhibitors:
    • Minaprine (Cantor).
    • Toloxatone (Humoryl).

List of RIMAs

  • Marketed pharmaceuticals:
    • Moclobemide (Aurorix, Manerix).
  • Other pharmaceuticals.
    • Brofaromine (Consonar).
    • Caroxazone (Surodil, Timostenil).
    • Eprobemide (Befol).
    • Methylene blue.
    • Metralindole (Inkazan).
    • Minaprine (Cantor).
    • Pirlindole (Pirazidol).
  • Naturally occurring RIMAs in plants:
    • Curcumin (selectivity for MAO-A and reliability of research on curcumin are disputed).
    • Harmaline.
    • Harmine.
  • Research compounds:
    • Amiflamine (FLA-336).
    • Befloxatone (MD-370,503).
    • Cimoxatone (MD-780,515).
    • Esuprone.
    • Sercloremine (CGP-4718-A).
    • Tetrindole.
    • CX157 (TriRima).

What is Venlafaxine?

Introduction

Venlafaxine, sold under the brand name Effexor among others, is an antidepressant medication of the serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) class.

It is used to treat major depressive disorder (MDD), generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and social phobia. It may also be used for chronic pain. It is taken by mouth.

Common side effects include loss of appetite, constipation, dry mouth, dizziness, sweating, and sexual problems. Severe side effects include an increased risk of suicide, mania, and serotonin syndrome. Antidepressant withdrawal syndrome may occur if stopped. There are concerns that use during the later part of pregnancy can harm the baby. How it works is not entirely clear, but it seems to be related to the potentiation of the activity of some neurotransmitters in the brain.

Venlafaxine was approved for medical use in the United States in 1993. It is available as a generic medication. In 2018, it was the 50th most commonly prescribed medication in the United States with more than 16 million prescriptions.

Medical Uses

Venlafaxine is used primarily for the treatment of depression, general anxiety disorder, social phobia, panic disorder, and vasomotor symptoms.

Venlafaxine has been used off label for the treatment of diabetic neuropathy and migraine prevention (in some people, however, venlafaxine can exacerbate or cause migraines). It may work on pain via effects on the opioid receptor. It has also been found to reduce the severity of ‘hot flashes’ in menopausal women and men on hormonal therapy for the treatment of prostate cancer.

Due to its action on both the serotoninergic and adrenergic systems, venlafaxine is also used as a treatment to reduce episodes of cataplexy, a form of muscle weakness, in patients with the sleep disorder narcolepsy. Some open-label and three double-blind studies have suggested the efficacy of venlafaxine in the treatment of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Clinical trials have found possible efficacy in those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Case reports, open trials and blinded comparisons with established medications have suggested the efficacy of venlafaxine in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Depression

A comparative meta-analysis of 21 major antidepressants found that venlafaxine, agomelatine, amitriptyline, escitalopram, mirtazapine, paroxetine, and vortioxetine were more effective than other antidepressants, although the quality of many comparisons was assessed as low or very low.

Venlafaxine was similar in efficacy to the atypical antidepressant bupropion; however, the remission rate was lower for venlafaxine. In a double-blind study, patients who did not respond to an SSRI were switched to either venlafaxine or another SSRI (citalopram); similar improvement was observed in both groups.

Studies of venlafaxine in children have not established its efficacy.

Studies have shown that the extended release is superior to the immediate release form of venlafaxine.

A meta-analysis shown that efficacity of venlafaxine is not correlated with baseline severity of depression.

Dosage

Venlafaxine has been shown to have an optimal efficacity and tolerability towards the lower end of their licensed dose range.

Contraindications

Venlafaxine is not recommended in patients hypersensitive to it, nor should it be taken by anyone who is allergic to the inactive ingredients, which include gelatin, cellulose, ethylcellulose, iron oxide, titanium dioxide and hypromellose. It should not be used in conjunction with a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI), as it can cause potentially fatal serotonin syndrome.

Adverse Effects

Refer to Adverse Effects of Venlafaxine.

Venlafaxine can increase eye pressure, so those with glaucoma may require more frequent eye checks.

A 2017 meta-analysis estimated venlafaxine discontinuation rate to 9.4%.

Suicide

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all antidepressants, including venlafaxine, to carry a black box warning with a generic warning about a possible suicide risk.

A 2014 meta analysis of 21 clinical trials of venlafaxine for the treatment of depression in adults found that compared to placebo, venlafaxine reduced the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviour.

A study conducted in Finland followed more than 15,000 patients for 3.4 years. Venlafaxine increased suicide risk by 60% (statistically significant), as compared to no treatment. At the same time, fluoxetine (Prozac) halved the suicide risk.

In another study, the data on more than 200,000 cases were obtained from the UK general practice research database. At baseline, patients prescribed venlafaxine had a greater number of risk factors for suicide (such as prior suicide attempts) than patients treated with other anti-depressants. The patients taking venlafaxine had significantly higher risk of completed suicide than the ones on fluoxetine or citalopram (Celexa). After adjusting for known risk factors, venlafaxine was associated with an increased risk of suicide relative to fluoxetine and dothiepin that was not statistically significant. A statistically significant greater risk for attempted suicide remained after adjustment, but the authors concluded that it could be due to residual confounding.[28]

An analysis of clinical trials by the FDA statisticians showed the incidence of suicidal behaviour among the adults on venlafaxine to be not significantly different from fluoxetine or placebo.

Venlafaxine is contraindicated in children, adolescents and young adults. According to the FDA analysis of clinical trials venlafaxine caused a statistically significant 5-fold increase in suicidal ideation and behaviour in persons younger than 25. In another analysis, venlafaxine was no better than placebo among children (7-11 years old), but improved depression in adolescents (12-17 years old). However, in both groups, hostility and suicidal behaviour increased in comparison to those receiving a placebo. In a study involving antidepressants that had failed to produce results in depressed teenagers, teens whose SSRI treatment had failed who were randomly switched to either another SSRI or to venlafaxine showed an increased rate of suicide on venlafaxine. Among teenagers who were suicidal at the beginning of the study, the rate of suicidal attempts and self-harm was significantly higher, by about 60%, after the switch to venlafaxine than after the switch to an SSRI.

Discontinuation Syndrome

Refer to Antidepressant Discontinuation Syndrome.

People stopping venlafaxine commonly experience discontinuation symptoms such as dysphoria, headaches, nausea, irritability, emotional lability, sensation of electric shocks, and sleep disturbance. Venlafaxine has a higher rate of moderate to severe discontinuation symptoms relative to other antidepressants (similar to the SSRI paroxetine).

The higher risk and increased severity of discontinuation syndrome symptoms relative to other antidepressants may be related to the short half-life of venlafaxine and its active metabolite. After discontinuing venlafaxine, the levels of both serotonin and norepinephrine decrease, leading to the hypothesis that the discontinuation symptoms could result from an overly rapid reduction of neurotransmitter levels.

Serotonin Syndrome

Refer to Serotonin Syndrome.

The development of a potentially life-threatening serotonin syndrome (also more recently classified as “serotonin toxicity”) may occur with venlafaxine treatment, particularly with concomitant use of serotonergic drugs, including but not limited to SSRIs and SNRIs, many hallucinogens such as tryptamines and phenethylamines (e.g. LSD/LSA, DMT, MDMA, mescaline), dextromethorphan (DXM), tramadol, tapentadol, pethidine (meperidine) and triptans and with drugs that impair metabolism of serotonin (including MAOIs). Serotonin syndrome symptoms may include mental status changes (e.g. agitation, hallucinations, coma), autonomic instability (e.g. tachycardia, labile blood pressure, hyperthermia), neuromuscular aberrations (e.g. hyperreflexia, incoordination) or gastrointestinal symptoms (e.g. nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea). Venlafaxine-induced serotonin syndrome has also been reported when venlafaxine has been taken in isolation in overdose. An abortive serotonin syndrome state, in which some but not all of the symptoms of the full serotonin syndrome are present, has been reported with venlafaxine at mid-range dosages (150 mg per day). A case of a patient with serotonin syndrome induced by low-dose venlafaxine (37.5 mg per day) has also been reported.

Pregnancy

There are few well-controlled studies of venlafaxine in pregnant women. A study released in May 2010 by the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggests use of venlafaxine doubles the risk of miscarriage. Consequently, venlafaxine should only be used during pregnancy if clearly needed. A large case-control study done as part of the National Birth Defects Prevention Study and published in 2012 found a significant association of venlafaxine use during pregnancy and several birth defects including anencephaly, cleft palate, septal heart defects and coarctation of the aorta. Prospective studies have not shown any statistically significant congenital malformations. There have, however, been some reports of self-limiting effects on newborn infants. As with other serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs), these effects are generally short-lived, lasting only 3 to 5 days, and rarely resulting in severe complications.

Drug Interactions

Venlafaxine should be taken with caution when using St John’s wort. Venlafaxine may lower the seizure threshold, and co-administration with other drugs that lower the seizure threshold such as bupropion and tramadol should be done with caution and at low doses.

Bipolar Disorder

Venlafaxine is neither recommended nor approved for the treatment of major depressive episodes in bipolar disorder, as it can induce mania or mixed episodes. Venlafaxine appears to be more likely than the SSRIs and bupropion to induce mania and mixed episodes in bipolar patients.

Liver Injury

A rare but serious side effect of venlafaxine is liver injury. It reaches man and female patients with a median age of 44 years. Cessation of venlafaxine is one of the appropriate measure of management. The mechanism of venlafaxine related-liver injury is unclear but may be related to a CYP2D6 polymorphism.

Other

In rare cases, drug-induced akathisia (movement disorder) can occur after use in some people.

Venlafaxine should be used with caution in hypertensive patients. Venlafaxine must be discontinued if significant hypertension persists. It can also have undesirable cardiovascular effects.

Overdose

Most patients overdosing with venlafaxine develop only mild symptoms. Plasma venlafaxine concentrations in overdose survivors have ranged from 6 to 24 mg/l, while postmortem blood levels in fatalities are often in the 10-90 mg/l range. Published retrospective studies report that venlafaxine overdosage may be associated with an increased risk of fatal outcome compared to that observed with SSRI antidepressant products, but lower than that for tricyclic antidepressants. Healthcare professionals are advised to prescribe Effexor and Effexor XR in the smallest quantity of capsules consistent with good patient management to reduce the risk of overdose. It is usually reserved as a second-line treatment for depression due to a combination of its superior efficacy to the first-line treatments like fluoxetine, paroxetine and citalopram and greater frequency of side effects like nausea, headache, insomnia, drowsiness, dry mouth, constipation, sexual dysfunction, sweating and nervousness.

There is no specific antidote for venlafaxine, and management is generally supportive, providing treatment for the immediate symptoms. Administration of activated charcoal can prevent absorption of the drug. Monitoring of cardiac rhythm and vital signs is indicated. Seizures are managed with benzodiazepines or other anticonvulsants. Forced diuresis, hzemodialysis, exchange transfusion, or hemoperfusion are unlikely to be of benefit in hastening the removal of venlafaxine, due to the drug’s high volume of distribution.

Mechanism of Action

Pharmacology

Venlafaxine is usually categorised as a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI), but it has also been referred to as a serotonin-norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor (SNDRI). It works by blocking the transporter “reuptake” proteins for key neurotransmitters affecting mood, thereby leaving more active neurotransmitters in the synapse. The neurotransmitters affected are serotonin and norepinephrine. Additionally, in high doses it weakly inhibits the reuptake of dopamine, since dopamine is inactivated by norepinephrine reuptake in the frontal cortex. The frontal cortex largely lacks dopamine transporters; therefore venlafaxine can increase dopamine neurotransmission in this part of the brain.

Venlafaxine indirectly affects opioid receptors as well as the alpha2-adrenergic receptor, and was shown to increase pain threshold in mice. These benefits with respect to pain were reversed with naloxone, an opioid antagonist, thus supporting an opioid mechanism.

Pharmacokinetics

Venlafaxine is well absorbed, with at least 92% of an oral dose being absorbed into systemic circulation. It is extensively metabolized in the liver via the CYP2D6 isoenzyme to desvenlafaxine (O-desmethylvenlafaxine, now marketed as a separate medication named Pristiq), which is just as potent an SNRI as the parent compound, meaning that the differences in metabolism between extensive and poor metabolisers are not clinically important in terms of efficacy. Side effects, however, are reported to be more severe in CYP2D6 poor metabolisers. Steady-state concentrations of venlafaxine and its metabolite are attained in the blood within 3 days. Therapeutic effects are usually achieved within 3 to 4 weeks. No accumulation of venlafaxine has been observed during chronic administration in healthy subjects. The primary route of excretion of venlafaxine and its metabolites is via the kidneys. The half-life of venlafaxine is relatively short, so patients are directed to adhere to a strict medication routine, avoiding missing a dose. Even a single missed dose can result in withdrawal symptoms.

Venlafaxine is a substrate of P-glycoprotein (P-gp), which pumps it out of the brain. The gene encoding P-gp, ABCB1, has the SNP rs2032583, with alleles C and T. The majority of people (about 70% of Europeans and 90% of East Asians) have the TT variant. A 2007 study found that carriers of at least one C allele (variant CC or CT) are 7.72 times more likely than non-carriers to achieve remission after 4 weeks of treatment with amitriptyline, citalopram, paroxetine or venlafaxine (all P-gp substrates). The study included patients with mood disorders other than major depression, such as bipolar II; the ratio is 9.4 if these other disorders are excluded. At the 6-week mark, 75% of C-carriers had remitted, compared to only 38% of non-carriers.

Chemistry

The IUPAC name of venlafaxine is 1-[2-(dimethylamino)-1-(4 methoxyphenyl)ethyl]cyclohexanol, though it is sometimes referred to as (±)-1-[a-[a-(dimethylamino)methyl]-p-methoxybenzyl]cyclohexanol. It consists of two enantiomers present in equal quantities (termed a racemic mixture), both of which have the empirical formula of C17H27NO2. It is usually sold as a mixture of the respective hydrochloride salts, (R/S)-1-[2-(dimethylamino)-1-(4 methoxyphenyl)ethyl]cyclohexanol hydrochloride, C17H28ClNO2, which is a white to off-white crystalline solid. Venlafaxine is structurally and pharmacologically related to the atypical opioid analgesic tramadol, and more distantly to the newly released opioid tapentadol, but not to any of the conventional antidepressant drugs, including tricyclic antidepressants, SSRIs, MAOIs, or RIMAs.

Venlafaxine extended release is chemically the same as normal venlafaxine. The extended release (controlled release) version distributes the release of the drug into the gastrointestinal tract over a longer period than normal venlafaxine. This results in a lower peak plasma concentration. Studies have shown that the extended release formula has a lower incidence of nausea as a side effect, resulting in better compliance.

Society and Culture

Venlafaxine was originally marketed as Effexor in most of the world; generic venlafaxine has been available since around 2008 and extended release venlaxafine has been available since around 2010.

As of January 2020 venlafaxine is marketed under many brand names worldwide, many with alternative extended release forms (not shown): Adefaxin, Alenthus, Altven, Alventa, Amfax, Anapresin, Ansifix, Arafaxina, Argofan, Arrow Venlafaxine, Axone, Axyven, Benolaxe, Blossom, Calmdown, Dalium, Defaxine, Depefex, Depretaxer, Deprevix, Deprexor, Deprixol, Depurol, Desinax, Dislaven, Dobupal, Duofaxin, Easyfor, Ectien, Eduxon, Efastad, Efaxin, Efaxine, Efectin, Efegen, Efevelon, Efevelone, Efexiva, Efexor, Effegad, Effexine, Effexor, Elafax, Elaxine, Elify, Enpress, Enlafax, Envelaf, Falven, Faxigen, Faxine, Faxiprol, Faxiven, Faxolet, Flavix, Flaxen, Fobiless, Ganavax, Idixor, Idoxen, Intefred, Illovex, Lafactin, Lafaxin, Lanvexin, Laroxin, Levest, Limbic, Linexel, Maxibral, Mazda, Melocin, Memomax, Mezine, Neoxacina, Neoxacina, Nervix, Norafexine, Norezor, Norpilen, Noviser, Nulev, Odiven, Olwexya, Oriven, Paxifar, Politid, Pracet, Prefaxine, Psiseven, Quilarex, Rafax, Senexon, Sentidol, Sentosa, Serosmine, Seroxine, Sesaren, Subelan, Sulinex, Sunveniz, Sunvex, Symfaxin, Tedema, Tifaxin, Tonpular, Trevilor, Tudor, Vafexin, Valosine, Vandral, Velaf, Velafax, Velahibin, Velaxin, Velept, Velpine, Venax, Venaxin, Venaxx, Vencarm, Vencontrol, Vendep, Venegis, Venex, Venexor, Venfalex, Venfax, Ven-Fax, Venfaxine, Venforin, Venforspine, Veniba, Veniz, Venjoy, Venla, Venlabax, Venlablue, Venlabrain, Venladep, Venladex, Venladoz, Venlaf, Venlafab, Venlafaxin, Venlafaxina, Venlafaxine, Venlagamma, Venlalic, Venlamax, Venlamylan, Venlaneo, Venlapine, Venla-Q, Venlasand, Venlatrin, Venlavitae, Venlax, Venlaxin, Venlaxine, Venlaxor, Venlazid, Venlectine, Venlifax, Venlift, Venlix, Venlobax, Venlofex, Venlor, Venorion, Venozap, Vensate, Ventab, Venxin, Venxor, Venzip, Vexamode, Vfax, Viepax, ViePax, Voxafen, Zacalen, Zanfexa, Zaredrop, Zarelis, Zarelix, and Zenexor.

What is Schizophrenia?

Introduction

Schizophrenia is a psychiatric disorder characterised by continuous or relapsing episodes of psychosis. Major symptoms include hallucinations (typically hearing voices), delusions, and disorganised thinking. Other symptoms include social withdrawal, decreased emotional expression, and apathy. Symptoms typically come on gradually, begin in young adulthood, and in many cases never resolve. There is no objective diagnostic test; diagnosis is based on:

  • Observed behaviour;
  • A history that includes the person’s reported experiences; and
  • Reports of others familiar with the person.

To be diagnosed with schizophrenia, symptoms and functional impairment need to be present for six months (DSM-5) or one month (ICD-11). Many people with schizophrenia have other mental disorders that often includes an anxiety disorder such as panic disorder, an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or a substance use disorder.

About 0.3% to 0.7% of people are affected by schizophrenia during their lifetime. In 2017, there were an estimated 1.1 million new cases and in 2019 a total of 20 million cases globally. Males are more often affected and on average have an earlier onset. The causes of schizophrenia include genetic and environmental factors. Genetic factors include a variety of common and rare genetic variants. Possible environmental factors include being raised in a city, cannabis use during adolescence, infections, the ages of a person’s mother or father, and poor nutrition during pregnancy.

About half of those diagnosed with schizophrenia will have a significant improvement over the long term with no further relapses, and a small proportion of these will recover completely. The other half will have a lifelong impairment, and severe cases may be repeatedly admitted to hospital. Social problems such as long-term unemployment, poverty, homelessness, exploitation, and victimisation are common consequences of schizophrenia. Compared to the general population, people with schizophrenia have a higher suicide rate (about 5% overall) and more physical health problems, leading to an average decrease in life expectancy by 20 years. In 2015, an estimated 17,000 deaths were caused by schizophrenia.

The mainstay of treatment is antipsychotic medication, along with counselling, job training, and social rehabilitation. Up to a third of people do not respond to initial antipsychotics, in which case the antipsychotic clozapine may be used. In situations where there is a risk of harm to self or others, a short involuntary hospitalisation may be necessary. Long-term hospitalisation may be needed for a small number of people with severe schizophrenia. In countries where supportive services are limited or unavailable, long-term hospital stays are more typical.

Epidemiology

In 2017, the Global Burden of Disease Study estimated there were 1.1 million new cases, and in 2019 the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported a total of 20 million cases globally. Schizophrenia affects around 0.3-0.7% of people at some point in their life. It occurs 1.4 times more frequently in males than females and typically appears earlier in men – the peak ages of onset are 25 years for males and 27 years for females. Onset in childhood, before the age of 13 can sometimes occur. A later onset can occur between the ages of 40 and 60, known as late onset, and also after 60 known as very late onset.

Worldwide, schizophrenia is the most common psychotic disorder. The frequency of schizophrenia varies across the world, within countries, and at the local and neighbourhood level. This variation has been estimated to be fivefold. It causes approximately 1% of worldwide disability adjusted life years and resulted in 17,000 deaths in 2015.

In 2000, the WHO found the percentage of people affected and the number of new cases that develop each year is roughly similar around the world, with age-standardised prevalence per 100,000 ranging from 343 in Africa to 544 in Japan and Oceania for men, and from 378 in Africa to 527 in Southeastern Europe for women. About 1.1% of adults have schizophrenia in the United States. However, in areas of conflict this figure can rise to between 4.0 and 6.5%.

Brief History

Accounts of a schizophrenia-like syndrome are rare in records before the 19th century. The earliest cases detailed were reported in 1797, and 1809. Dementia praecox, meaning premature dementia was used by German psychiatrist Heinrich Schüle in 1886, and then in 1891 by Arnold Pick in a case report of hebephrenia. In 1893 Emil Kraepelin used the term in making a distinction, known as the Kraepelinian dichotomy, between the two psychoses – dementia praecox, and manic depression (now called bipolar disorder). Kraepelin believed that dementia praecox was probably caused by a systemic disease that affected many organs and nerves, affecting the brain after puberty in a final decisive cascade. It was thought to be an early form of dementia, a degenerative disease. When it became evident that the disorder was not degenerative it was renamed schizophrenia by Eugen Bleuler in 1908.

The word schizophrenia translates roughly as “splitting of the mind” and is Modern Latin from the Greek roots schizein (σχίζειν, “to split”) and phrēn, (φρεν, “mind”) Its use was intended to describe the separation of function between personality, thinking, memory, and perception.

The term schizophrenia used to be associated with split personality by the general population but that usage went into decline when split personality became known as a separate disorder, first as multiple identity disorder , and later as dissociative identity disorder. In 2002 in Japan the name was changed to integration disorder, and in 2012 in South Korea, the name was changed to attunement disorder to reduce the stigma, both with good results.

In the early 20th century, the psychiatrist Kurt Schneider listed the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia into two groups of hallucinations, and delusions. The hallucinations were listed as specific to auditory, and the delusional included thought disorders. These were seen as the symptoms of first-rank importance and were termed first-rank symptoms. Whilst these were also sometimes seen to be relevant to the psychosis in manic-depression, they were highly suggestive of schizophrenia and typically referred to as first-rank symptoms of schizophrenia. The most common first-rank symptom was found to belong to thought disorders. In 2013 the first-rank symptoms were excluded from the DSM-5 criteria. First-rank symptoms are seen to be of limited use in detecting schizophrenia but may be of help in differential diagnosis.]

The earliest attempts to treat schizophrenia were psychosurgical, involving either the removal of brain tissue from different regions or the severing of pathways. These were notably frontal lobotomies and cingulotomies which were carried out from the 1930s. In the 1930s a number of shock therapies were introduced which induced seizures (convulsions) or comas. Insulin shock therapy involved the injecting of large doses of insulin in order to induce comas, which in turn produced hypoglycaemia and convulsions. The use of electricity to induce seizures was developed, and in use as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) by 1938. Stereotactic surgeries were developed in the 1940s. Treatment was revolutionized in the mid-1950s with the development and introduction of the first typical antipsychotic, chlorpromazine. In the 1970s the first atypical antipsychotic clozapine, was introduced followed by the introduction of others.

In the early 1970s in the US, the diagnostic model used for schizophrenia was broad and clinically-based using DSM II. It had been noted that schizophrenia was diagnosed far more in the US than in Europe which had been using the ICD-9 criteria. The US model was criticised for failing to demarcate clearly those people with a mental illness, and those without. In 1980 DSM III was published and showed a shift in focus from the clinically-based biopsychosocial model to a reason-based medical model. DSM IV showed an increased focus to an evidence-based medical model.

Subtypes of schizophrenia classified as paranoid, disorganized, catatonic, undifferentiated, and residual type were difficult to distinguish between and are no longer recognised as separate conditions by DSM-5 (2013) or ICD-11.

Signs and Symptoms

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by significant alterations in perception, thoughts, mood, and behaviour. Symptoms are described in terms of positive, and negative, and cognitive symptoms. The positive symptoms of schizophrenia are the same for any psychosis and are sometimes referred to as psychotic symptoms. These may be present in any of the different psychoses, and are often transient making early diagnosis of schizophrenia problematic. Psychosis noted for the first time in a person who is later diagnosed with schizophrenia is referred to as a first-episode psychosis (FEP).

Positive Symptoms

Positive symptoms are those symptoms that are not normally experienced, but are present in people during a psychotic episode in schizophrenia. They include delusions, hallucinations, and disorganised thoughts and speech, typically regarded as manifestations of psychosis. Hallucinations most commonly involve the sense of hearing as hearing voices but can sometimes involve any of the other senses of taste, sight, smell, and touch. They are also typically related to the content of the delusional theme. Delusions are bizarre or persecutory in nature. Distortions of self-experience such as feeling as if one’s thoughts or feelings are not really one’s own, to believing that thoughts are being inserted into one’s mind, sometimes termed passivity phenomena, are also common. Thought disorders can include thought blocking, and disorganised speech – speech that is not understandable is known as word salad. Positive symptoms generally respond well to medication, and become reduced over the course of the illness, perhaps related to the age-related decline in dopamine activity.

Negative Symptoms

Negative symptoms are deficits of normal emotional responses, or of other thought processes. The five recognised domains of negative symptoms are:

  • Blunted affect: showing flat expressions or little emotion;
  • Alogia: a poverty of speech;
  • Anhedonia: an inability to feel pleasure;
  • Asociality: the lack of desire to form relationships; and
  • Avolition: a lack of motivation and apathy.

Avolition and anhedonia are seen as motivational deficits resulting from impaired reward processing. Reward is the main driver of motivation and this is mostly mediated by dopamine. It has been suggested that negative symptoms are multidimensional and they have been categorised into two subdomains of apathy or lack of motivation, and diminished expression. Apathy includes avolition, anhedonia, and social withdrawal; diminished expression includes blunt effect, and alogia. Sometimes diminished expression is treated as both verbal and non-verbal. Apathy accounts for around 50% of the most often found negative symptoms and affects functional outcome and subsequent quality of life. Apathy is related to disrupted cognitive processing affecting memory and planning including goal-directed behaviour. The two subdomains has suggested a need for separate treatment approaches. A lack of distress – relating to a reduced experience of depression and anxiety is another noted negative symptom. A distinction is often made between those negative symptoms that are inherent to schizophrenia, termed primary; and those that result from positive symptoms, from the side effects of antipsychotics, substance abuse, and social deprivation – termed secondary negative symptoms. Negative symptoms are less responsive to medication and the most difficult to treat. However if properly assessed, secondary negative symptoms are amenable to treatment.

Scales for specifically assessing the presence of negative symptoms, and for measuring their severity, and their changes have been introduced since the earlier scales such as the PANNS that deals with all types of symptoms. These scales are the Clinical Assessment Interview for Negative Symptoms (CAINS), and the Brief Negative Symptom Scale (BNSS) also known as second-generation scales. In 2020, ten years after its introduction a cross-cultural study of the use of BNSS found valid and reliable psychometric evidence for the five-domain structure cross-culturally. The BNSS is designed to assess both the presence and severity and change of negative symptoms of the five recognised domains, and the additional item of reduced normal distress. BNSS can register changes in negative symptoms in relation to psychosocial and pharmacological intervention trials. BNSS has also been used to study a proposed non-D2 treatment called SEP-363856. Findings supported the favouring of five domains over the two-dimensional proposition.

Cognitive Symptoms

Cognitive deficits are the earliest and most constantly found symptoms in schizophrenia. They are often evident long before the onset of illness in the prodromal stage, and may be present in early adolescence, or childhood. They are a core feature but not considered to be core symptoms, as are positive and negative symptoms. However, their presence and degree of dysfunction is taken as a better indicator of functionality than the presentation of core symptoms. Cognitive deficits become worse at first episode psychosis but then return to baseline, and remain fairly stable over the course of the illness.

The deficits in cognition are seen to drive the negative psychosocial outcome in schizophrenia, and are claimed to equate to a possible reduction in IQ from the norm of 100 to 70-85. Cognitive deficits may be of neurocognition (non-social) or of social cognition. Neurocognition is the ability to receive and remember information, and includes verbal fluency, memory, reasoning, problem solving, speed of processing, and auditory and visual perception. Verbal memory and attention are seen to be the most affected. Verbal memory impairment is associated with a decreased level of semantic processing (relating meaning to words). Another memory impairment is that of episodic memory. An impairment in visual perception that is consistently found in schizophrenia is that of visual backward masking. Visual processing impairments include an inability to perceive complex visual illusions. Social cognition is concerned with the mental operations needed to interpret, and understand the self and others in the social world. This is also an associated impairment, and facial emotion perception is often found to be difficult. Facial perception is critical for ordinary social interaction. Cognitive impairments do not usually respond to antipsychotics, and there are a number of interventions that are used to try to improve them; cognitive remediation therapy has been found to be of particular help.

Onset

Onset typically occurs between the late teens and early 30s, with the peak incidence occurring in males in the early to mid twenties, and in females in the late twenties. Onset before the age of 17 is known as early-onset, and before the age of 13, as can sometimes occur, is known as childhood schizophrenia or very early-onset. A later stage of onset can occur between the ages of 40 and 60, known as late-onset schizophrenia. A later onset over the age of 60, which may be difficult to differentiate as schizophrenia, is known as very-late-onset schizophrenia-like psychosis. Late onset has shown that a higher rate of females are affected; they have less severe symptoms and need lower doses of antipsychotics. The tendency for earlier onset in males is later seen to be balanced by a post-menopausal increase in the development in females. Oestrogen produced pre-menopause has a dampening effect on dopamine receptors but its protection can be overridden by a genetic overload. There has been a dramatic increase in the numbers of older adults with schizophrenia. An estimated 70% of those with schizophrenia have cognitive deficits, and these are most pronounced in early onset and late-onset illness.

Onset may happen suddenly or may occur after the slow and gradual development of a number of signs and symptoms, a period known as the prodromal stage. Up to 75% of those with schizophrenia go through a prodromal stage. The negative and cognitive symptoms in the prodrome stage can precede FEP by many months and up to five years. The period from FEP and treatment is known as the duration of untreated psychosis (DUP) which is seen to be a factor in functional outcome. The prodromal stage is the high-risk stage for the development of psychosis. Since the progression to first episode psychosis is not inevitable, an alternative term is often preferred of at risk mental state Cognitive dysfunction at an early age impact a young person’s usual cognitive development. Recognition and early intervention at the prodromal stage would minimize the associated disruption to educational and social development and has been the focus of many studies. It is suggested that the use of anti-inflammatory compounds such as D-serine may prevent the transition to schizophrenia. Cognitive symptoms are not secondary to positive symptoms or to the side effects of antipsychotics.

Cognitive impairments in the prodromal stage become worse after first episode psychosis (after which they return to baseline and then remain fairly stable), making early intervention to prevent such transition of prime importance. Early treatment with cognitive behavioural therapies are the gold standard. Neurological soft signs of clumsiness and loss of fine motor movement are often found in schizophrenia, which may resolve with effective treatment of FEP.

Risk Factors

Schizophrenia is described as a neurodevelopmental disorder with no precise boundary, or single cause, and is thought to develop from gene-environment interactions with involved vulnerability factors. The interactions of these risk factors are complex, as numerous and diverse insults from conception to adulthood can be involved. A genetic predisposition on its own, without interacting environmental factors, will not give rise to the development of schizophrenia. The genetic component means that prenatally brain development is disturbed, and environmental influence affects the postnatal development of the brain. Evidence suggests that genetically susceptible children are more likely to be vulnerable to the effects of environmental risk factors.

Genetic

Estimates of the heritability of schizophrenia are between 70% and 80%, which implies that 70% to 80% of the individual differences in risk to schizophrenia is associated with genetics. These estimates vary because of the difficulty in separating genetic and environmental influences, and their accuracy has been queried. The greatest risk factor for developing schizophrenia is having a first-degree relative with the disease (risk is 6.5%); more than 40% of identical twins of those with schizophrenia are also affected. If one parent is affected the risk is about 13% and if both are affected the risk is nearly 50%. However, DSM-5 points out that most people with schizophrenia have no family history of psychosis. Results of candidate gene studies of schizophrenia have generally failed to find consistent associations, and the genetic loci identified by genome-wide association studies explain only a small fraction of the variation in the disease.

Many genes are known to be involved in schizophrenia, each with small effect and unknown transmission and expression. The summation of these effect sizes into a polygenic risk score can explain at least 7% of the variability in liability for schizophrenia. Around 5% of cases of schizophrenia are understood to be at least partially attributable to rare copy-number variations (CNVs); these structural variations are associated with known genomic disorders involving deletions at 22q11.2 (DiGeorge syndrome), duplications at 16p11.2 16p11.2 duplication (most frequently found) and deletions at 15q11.2 (Burnside-Butler syndrome). Some of these CNVs increase the risk of developing schizophrenia by as much as 20-fold, and are frequently comorbid with autism and intellectual disabilities.

The genes CRHR1 and CRHBP have been shown to be associated with a severity of suicidal behaviour. These genes code for stress response proteins needed in the control of the HPA axis, and their interaction can affect this axis. Response to stress can cause lasting changes in the function of the HPA axis possibly disrupting the negative feedback mechanism, homeostasis, and the regulation of emotion leading to altered behaviours.

The question of how schizophrenia could be primarily genetically influenced, given that people with schizophrenia have lower fertility rates, is a paradox. It is expected that genetic variants that increase the risk of schizophrenia would be selected against due to their negative effects on reproductive fitness. A number of potential explanations have been proposed, including that alleles associated with schizophrenia risk confers a fitness advantage in unaffected individuals. While some evidence has not supported this idea, others propose that a large number of alleles each contributing a small amount can persist.

Environmental

Environmental factors, each associated with a slight risk of developing schizophrenia in later life include oxygen deprivation, infection, prenatal maternal stress, and malnutrition in the mother during prenatal development. A risk is also associated with maternal obesity, in increasing oxidative stress, and dysregulating the dopamine and serotonin pathways. Both maternal stress and infection have been demonstrated to alter foetal neurodevelopment through an increase of pro-inflammatory cytokines. There is a slighter risk associated with being born in the winter or spring possibly due to vitamin D deficiency or a prenatal viral infection. Other infections during pregnancy or around the time of birth that have been linked to an increased risk include infections by Toxoplasma gondii and Chlamydia. The increased risk is about 5-8%. Viral infections of the brain during childhood are also linked to a risk of schizophrenia during adulthood.

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), severe forms of which are classed as childhood trauma, range from being bullied or abused, to the death of a parent. Many adverse childhood experiences can cause toxic stress and increase the risk of psychosis. Chronic trauma can promote lasting inflammatory dysregulation throughout the nervous system. It is suggested that early stress may contribute to the development of schizophrenia through these alterations in the immune system. Schizophrenia was the last diagnosis to benefit from the link made between ACEs and adult mental health outcomes.

Living in an urban environment during childhood or as an adult has consistently been found to increase the risk of schizophrenia by a factor of two, even after taking into account drug use, ethnic group, and size of social group. A possible link between the urban environment and pollution has been suggested to be the cause of the elevated risk of schizophrenia.

Other risk factors of importance include social isolation, immigration related to social adversity and racial discrimination, family dysfunction, unemployment, and poor housing conditions. Having a father older than 40 years, or parents younger than 20 years are also associated with schizophrenia. It has been suggested that apart from gene-environment interactions, environment-environment interactions also be taken into account as each environmental risk factor on its own is not enough.

Substance Use

About half of those with schizophrenia use recreational drugs, including cannabis, tobacco, and alcohol excessively. Use of stimulants such as amphetamine and cocaine can lead to a temporary stimulant psychosis, which presents very similarly to schizophrenia. Rarely, alcohol use can also result in a similar alcohol-related psychosis. Drugs may also be used as coping mechanisms by people who have schizophrenia, to deal with depression, anxiety, boredom, and loneliness. The use of cannabis and tobacco are not associated with the development of cognitive deficits, and sometimes a reverse relationship is found where their use improves these symptoms. However, substance abuse is associated with an increased risk of suicide, and a poor response to treatment.

Cannabis-use may be a contributory factor in the development of schizophrenia, potentially increasing the risk of the disease in those who are already at risk. The increased risk may require the presence of certain genes within an individual. Its use is associated with doubling the rate. The use of more potent strains of cannabis having a high level of its active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), increases the risk further. One of these strains is well known as skunk.

Mechanisms

The mechanisms of schizophrenia are unknown, and a number of models have been put forward to explain the link between altered brain function and schizophrenia. The prevailing model of schizophrenia is that of a neurodevelopmental disorder, and the underlying changes that occur before symptoms become evident are seen as arising from the interaction between genes and the environment. Extensive studies support this model. Maternal infections, malnutrition and complications during pregnancy and childbirth are known risk factors for the development of schizophrenia, which usually emerges between the ages of 18-25 a period that overlaps with certain stages of neurodevelopment. Gene-environment interactions lead to deficits in the neural circuitry that affect sensory and cognitive functions.

The common dopamine and glutamate models proposed are not mutually exclusive; each is seen to have a role in the neurobiology of schizophrenia. The most common model put forward was the dopamine hypothesis of schizophrenia, which attributes psychosis to the mind’s faulty interpretation of the misfiring of dopaminergic neurons. This has been directly related to the symptoms of delusions and hallucinations. Abnormal dopamine signalling has been implicated in schizophrenia based on the usefulness of medications that affect the dopamine receptor and the observation that dopamine levels are increased during acute psychosis. A decrease in D1 receptors in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex may also be responsible for deficits in working memory.

The glutamate hypothesis of schizophrenia links alterations between glutamatergic neurotransmission and the neural oscillations that affect connections between the thalamus and the cortex. Studies have shown that a reduced expression of a glutamate receptor – NMDA receptor, and glutamate blocking drugs such as phencyclidine and ketamine can mimic the symptoms and cognitive problems associated with schizophrenia. Post-mortem studies consistently find that a subset of these neurons fail to express GAD67 (GAD1), in addition to abnormalities in brain morphometry. The subsets of interneurons that are abnormal in schizophrenia are responsible for the synchronising of neural ensembles needed during working memory tasks. These give the neural oscillations produced as gamma waves that have a frequency of between 30 and 80 hertz. Both working memory tasks and gamma waves are impaired in schizophrenia, which may reflect abnormal interneuron functionality.

Deficits in executive functions, such as planning, inhibition, and working memory, are pervasive in schizophrenia. Although these functions are separable, their dysfunction in schizophrenia may reflect an underlying deficit in the ability to represent goal related information in working memory, and to utilize this to direct cognition and behaviour. These impairments have been linked to a number of neuroimaging and neuropathological abnormalities. For example, functional neuroimaging studies report evidence of reduced neural processing efficiency, whereby the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is activated to a greater degree to achieve a certain level of performance relative to controls on working memory tasks. These abnormalities may be linked to the consistent post-mortem finding of reduced neuropil, evidenced by increased pyramidal cell density and reduced dendritic spine density. These cellular and functional abnormalities may also be reflected in structural neuroimaging studies that find reduced grey matter volume in association with deficits in working memory tasks.

Positive symptoms have been linked to cortical thinning in the superior temporal gyrus. Severity of negative symptoms has been linked to reduced thickness in the left medial orbitofrontal cortex. Anhedonia, traditionally defined as a reduced capacity to experience pleasure, is frequently reported in schizophrenia. However, a large body of evidence suggests that hedonic responses are intact in schizophrenia, and that what is reported to be anhedonia is a reflection of dysfunction in other processes related to reward. Overall, a failure of reward prediction is thought to lead to impairment in the generation of cognition and behaviour required to obtain rewards, despite normal hedonic responses.

It has been hypothesized that in some people, development of schizophrenia is related to intestinal tract dysfunction such as seen with non-celiac gluten sensitivity or abnormalities in the gut microbiota. A subgroup of persons with schizophrenia present an immune response to gluten differently from that found in people with celiac, with elevated levels of certain serum biomarkers of gluten sensitivity such as anti-gliadin IgG or anti-gliadin IgA antibodies.

Another theory links abnormal brain lateralization to the development of being left-handed which is significantly more common in those with schizophrenia. This abnormal development of hemispheric asymmetry is noted in schizophrenia. Studies have concluded that the link is a true and verifiable effect that may reflect a genetic link between lateralisation and schizophrenia.

An important process that may be disrupted in neurodevelopment is astrogenesis – the formation of astrocytes. Astrocytes are crucial in contributing to the formation and maintenance of neural circuits and it is believed that disruption in this role can result in a number of neurodevelopmental disorders including schizophrenia.

Bayesian models of brain functioning have been utilised to link abnormalities in cellular functioning to symptoms. Both hallucinations and delusions have been suggested to reflect improper encoding of prior expectations, thereby causing expectation to excessively influence sensory perception and the formation of beliefs. In approved models of circuits that mediate predictive coding, reduced NMDA receptor activation, could in theory result in the positive symptoms of delusions and hallucinations.

Diagnosis

Refer to Diagnosis of Schizophrenia.

There is no objective test or biomarker to confirm diagnosis. Psychoses can occur in several conditions and are often transient making early diagnosis of schizophrenia difficult. Psychosis noted for the first time in a person that is later diagnosed with schizophrenia is referred to as a first-episode psychosis (FEP).

Criteria

Schizophrenia is diagnosed based on criteria in either the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association or the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) published by the World Health Organization. These criteria use the self-reported experiences of the person and reported abnormalities in behaviour, followed by a psychiatric assessment. The mental status examination is an important part of the assessment. An established tool for assessing the severity of positive and negative symptoms is the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS). This has been seen to have shortcomings relating to negative symptoms, and other scales – the Clinical Assessment Interview for Negative Symptoms (CAINS), and the Brief Negative Symptoms Scale (BNSS) have been introduced. The DSM-5, published in 2013, gives a Scale to Assess the Severity of Symptom Dimensions outlining eight dimensions of symptoms.

DSM-5 states that to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, two diagnostic criteria have to be met over the period of one month, with a significant impact on social or occupational functioning for at least six months. One of the symptoms needs to be either delusions, hallucinations, or disorganised speech. A second symptom could be one of the negative symptoms, or severely disorganised or catatonic behaviour. A different diagnosis of schizophreniform disorder can be made before the six months needed for the diagnosis of schizophrenia.

In Australia the guideline for diagnosis is for six months or more with symptoms severe enough to affect ordinary functioning. In the UK diagnosis is based on having the symptoms for most of the time for one month, with symptoms that significantly affect the ability to work, study, or to carry on ordinary daily living, and with other similar conditions ruled out.

The ICD criteria are typically used in European countries; the DSM criteria are used predominantly in the United States and Canada, and are prevailing in research studies. In practice, agreement between the two systems is high. The current proposal for the ICD-11 criteria for schizophrenia recommends adding self-disorder as a symptom.

A major unresolved difference between the two diagnostic systems is that of the requirement in DSM of an impaired functional outcome. WHO for ICD argues that not all people with schizophrenia have functional deficits and so these are not specific for the diagnosis.

Changes Made

Both manuals have adopted the chapter heading of Schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders; ICD modifying this as Schizophrenia spectrum and other primary psychotic disorders. The definition of schizophrenia remains essentially the same as that specified by the 2000 text revised DSM-IV (DSM-IV-TR). However, with the publication of DSM-5, the APA removed all sub-classifications of schizophrenia. ICD-11 has also removed subtypes. The removed subtype from both, of catatonic has been relisted in ICD-11 as a psychomotor disturbance that may be present in schizophrenia.

Another major change was to remove the importance previously given to Schneider’s first-rank symptoms. DSM-5 still uses the listing of schizophreniform disorder but ICD-11 no longer includes it. DSM-5 also recommends that a better distinction be made between a current condition of schizophrenia and its historical progress, to achieve a clearer overall characterisation.

A dimensional assessment has been included in DSM-5 covering eight dimensions of symptoms to be rated (using the Scale to Assess the Severity of Symptom Dimensions) – these include the five diagnostic criteria plus cognitive impairments, mania, and depression. This can add relevant information for the individual in regard to treatment, prognosis, and functional outcome; it also enables the response to treatment to be more accurately described.

Two of the negative symptoms – avolition and diminished emotional expression, have been given more prominence in both manuals.

Comorbidities

Many people with schizophrenia may have one or more other mental disorders, such as panic disorder, OCD, or substance use disorder. These are separate disorders that require treatment. When comorbid with schizophrenia, substance use disorder and antisocial personality disorder both increase the risk for violence. Comorbid substance abuse also increases risk for suicide.

Sleep disorders often co-occur with schizophrenia, and may be an early sign of relapse. Sleep disorders are linked with positive symptoms such as disorganised thinking and can adversely affect cortical plasticity and cognition. The consolidation of memories is disrupted in sleep disorders. They are associated with severity of illness, a poor prognosis, and poor quality of life. Sleep onset and maintenance insomnia is a common symptom, regardless of whether treatment has been received or not. Genetic variations have been found associated with these conditions involving the circadian rhythm, dopamine and histamine metabolism, and signal transduction. Limited positive evidence has been found for the use of acupuncture as an add-on.

Differential Diagnosis

To make a diagnosis of schizophrenia other possible causes of psychosis need to be excluded. Psychotic symptoms lasting less than a month may be diagnosed as brief psychotic disorder, or as schizophreniform disorder. Psychosis is noted in Other specified schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders as a DSM-5 category. Schizoaffective disorder is diagnosed if symptoms of mood disorder are substantially present alongside psychotic symptoms. Psychosis that results from a general medical condition or substance is termed secondary psychosis. Psychotic symptoms may be present in several other conditions, including bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, substance intoxication, substance-induced psychosis, and a number of drug withdrawal syndromes. Non-bizarre delusions are also present in delusional disorder, and social withdrawal in social anxiety disorder, avoidant personality disorder and schizotypal personality disorder. Schizotypal personality disorder has symptoms that are similar but less severe than those of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia occurs along with OCD considerably more often than could be explained by chance, although it can be difficult to distinguish obsessions that occur in OCD from the delusions of schizophrenia. There can be considerable overlap with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

A more general medical and neurological examination may be needed to rule out medical illnesses which may rarely produce psychotic schizophrenia-like symptoms, such as metabolic disturbance, systemic infection, syphilis, HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder, epilepsy, limbic encephalitis, and brain lesions. Stroke, multiple sclerosis, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, and dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, and the Lewy body dementias may also be associated with schizophrenia-like psychotic symptoms. It may be necessary to rule out a delirium, which can be distinguished by visual hallucinations, acute onset and fluctuating level of consciousness, and indicates an underlying medical illness. Investigations are not generally repeated for relapse unless there is a specific medical indication or possible adverse effects from antipsychotic medication. In children hallucinations must be separated from typical childhood fantasies. It is difficult to distinguish childhood schizophrenia from autism.

Prevention

Prevention of schizophrenia is difficult as there are no reliable markers for the later development of the disorder. There is tentative though inconclusive evidence for the effectiveness of early intervention to prevent schizophrenia in the prodrome phase. There is some evidence that early intervention in those with first-episode psychosis may improve short-term outcomes, but there is little benefit from these measures after five years. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may reduce the risk of psychosis in those at high risk after a year and is recommended in this group, by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Another preventive measure is to avoid drugs that have been associated with development of the disorder, including cannabis, cocaine, and amphetamines.

Antipsychotics are prescribed following a first-episode psychosis, and following remission a preventive maintenance use is continued to avoid relapse. However, it is recognised that some people do recover following a single episode and that long-term use of antipsychotics will not be needed but there is no way of identifying this group.

Management

The primary treatment of schizophrenia is the use of antipsychotic medications, often in combination with psychosocial interventions and social supports. Community support services including drop-in centres, visits by members of a community mental health team, supported employment, and support groups are common. The time between the onset of psychotic symptoms to being given treatment – the duration of untreated psychosis (DUP) is associated with a poorer outcome in both the short term and the long term.

Voluntary or involuntary admittance to hospital may be needed to treat a severe episode, however, hospital stays are as short as possible. In the UK large mental hospitals termed asylums began to be closed down in the 1950s with the advent of antipsychotics, and with an awareness of the negative impact of long-term hospital stays on recovery. This process was known as deinstitutionalisation, and community and supportive services were developed in order to support this change. Many other countries followed suit with the US starting in the 60s. There will still remain a few people who do not improve enough to be discharged. In those countries that lack the necessary supportive and social services long-term hospital stays are more usual.

Medication

The first-line treatment for schizophrenia is an antipsychotic. The first-generation antipsychotics, now called typical antipsychotics, are dopamine antagonists that block D2 receptors, and affect the neurotransmission of dopamine. Those brought out later, the second-generation antipsychotics known as atypical antipsychotics, can also have effect on another neurotransmitter, serotonin. Antipsychotics can reduce the symptoms of anxiety within hours of their use but for other symptoms they may take several days or weeks to reach their full effect. They have little effect on negative and cognitive symptoms, which may be helped by additional psychotherapies and medications. There is no single antipsychotic suitable for first-line treatment for everyone, as responses and tolerances vary between people. Stopping medication may be considered after a single psychotic episode where there has been a full recovery with no symptoms for twelve months. Repeated relapses worsen the long-term outlook and the risk of relapse following a second episode is high, and long-term treatment is usually recommended.

Tobacco smoking increases the metabolism of some antipsychotics, by strongly activating CYP1A2, the enzyme that breaks them down, and a significant difference is found in these levels between smokers and non-smokers. It is recommended that the dosage for those smokers on clozapine be increased by 50%, and for those on olanzapine by 30%. The result of stopping smoking can lead to an increased concentration of the antipsychotic that may result in toxicity, so that monitoring of effects would need to take place with a view to decreasing the dosage; many symptoms may be noticeably worsened, and extreme fatigue, and seizures are also possible with a risk of relapse. Likewise those who resume smoking may need their dosages adjusted accordingly. The altering effects are due to compounds in tobacco smoke and not to nicotine; the use of nicotine replacement therapy therefore has the equivalent effect of stopping smoking and monitoring would still be needed.

About 30-50% of people with schizophrenia fail to accept that they have an illness or comply with their recommended treatment. For those who are unwilling or unable to take medication regularly, long-acting injections of antipsychotics may be used, which reduce the risk of relapse to a greater degree than oral medications. When used in combination with psychosocial interventions, they may improve long-term adherence to treatment.

Research findings suggested that other neurotransmission systems, including serotonin, glutamate, GABA, and acetycholine, were implicated in the development of schizophrenia, and that a more inclusive medication was needed. A new first-in-class antipsychotic that targets multiple neurotransmitter systems called lumateperone (ITI-007), was trialled and approved by the FDA in December 2019 for the treatment of schizophrenia in adults. Lumateperone is a small molecule agent that shows improved safety, and tolerance. It interacts with dopamine, serotonin, and glutamate in a complex, uniquely selective manner, and is seen to improve negative and positive symptoms, and social functioning. Lumateperone was also found to reduce potential metabolic dysfunction, have lower rates of movement disorders, and have lower cardiovascular side effects such as a fast heart rate.

Side Effects

Typical antipsychotics are associated with a higher rate of movement disorders including akathisia. Some atypicals are associated with considerable weight gain, diabetes and the risk of metabolic syndrome. Risperidone (atypical) has a similar rate of extrapyramidal symptoms to haloperidol (typical). A rare but potentially lethal condition of neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS) has been associated with the use of antipsychotics. Through its early recognition, and timely intervention rates have declined. However, an awareness of the syndrome is advised to enable intervention. Another less rare condition of tardive dyskinesia can occur due to long-term use of antipsychotics, developing after many months or years of use. It is more often reported with use of typical antipsychotics.

Clozapine is associated with side effects that include weight gain, tiredness, and hypersalivation. More serious adverse effects include seizures, NMS, neutropenia, and agranulocytosis (lowered white blood cell count) and its use needs careful monitoring. Studies have found that antipsychotic treatment following NMS and neutropenia may sometimes be successfully re-challenged (restarted) with clozapine.

Clozapine is also associated with thromboembolism (including pulmonary embolism), myocarditis, and cardiomyopathy. A systematic review of clozapine-associated pulmonary embolism indicates that this adverse effect can often be fatal, and that it has an early onset, and is dose-dependent. The findings advised the consideration of using a prevention therapy for venous thromboembolism after starting treatment with clozapine, and continuing this for six months. Constipation is three times more likely to occur with the use of clozapine, and severe cases can lead to ileus and bowel ischemia resulting in many fatalities.

However, the risk of serious adverse effects from clozapine is low, and there are the beneficial effects to be gained of a reduced risk of suicide, and aggression. Typical antipsychotics and atypical risperidone can have a side effect of sexual dysfunction. Clozapine, olanzapine, and quetiapine are associated with beneficial effects on sexual functioning helped by various psychotherapies. Unwanted side effects cause people to stop treatment, resulting in relapses.

Treatment Resistant Schizophrenia

About half of those with schizophrenia will respond favourably to antipsychotics, and have a good return of functioning. However, positive symptoms persist in up to a third of people. Following two trials of different antipsychotics over six weeks, that also prove ineffective, they will be classed as having treatment resistant schizophrenia (TRS), and clozapine will be offered. Clozapine is of benefit to around half of this group although it has the potentially serious side effect of agranulocytosis (lowered white blood cell count) in less than 4% of people. Between 12-20% will not respond to clozapine and this group is said to have ultra treatment resistant schizophrenia. ECT may be offered to treat TRS as an add-on therapy, and is shown to sometimes be of benefit. A review concluded that this use only has an effect on medium-term TRS and that there is not enough evidence to support its use other than for this group.

TRS is often accompanied by a low quality of life, and greater social dysfunction. TRS may be the result of inadequate rather than inefficient treatment; it also may be a false label due to medication not being taken regularly, or at all. About 16% of people who had initially been responsive to treatment later develop resistance. This could relate to the length of time on APs, with treatment becoming less responsive. This finding also supports the involvement of dopamine in the development of schizophrenia. Studies suggest that TRS may be a more heritable form.

TRS may be evident from first episode psychosis, or from a relapse. It can vary in its intensity and response to other therapies. This variation is seen to possibly indicate an underlying neurobiology such as dopamine super-sensitivity (DSS), glutamate or serotonin dysfunction, inflammation and oxidative stress. Studies have found that dopamine super-sensitivity is found in up to 70% of those with TRS. The variation has led to the suggestion that treatment responsive and treatment resistant schizophrenia be considered as two different subtypes. It is further suggested that if the subtypes could be distinguished at an early stage significant implications could follow for treatment considerations, and for research. Neuroimaging studies have found a significant decrease in the volume of grey matter in those with TRS with no such change seen in those who are treatment responsive. In those with ultra treatment resistance the decrease in grey matter volume was larger.

A link has been made between the gut microbiota and the development of TRS. The most prevalent cause put forward for TRS is that of mutation in the genes responsible for drug effectiveness. These include liver enzyme genes that control the availability of a drug to brain targets, and genes responsible for the structure and function of these targets. In the colon the bacteria encode a hundred times more genes than exist in the human genome. Only a fraction of ingested drugs reach the colon, having been already exposed to small intestinal bacteria, and absorbed in the portal circulation. This small fraction is then subject to the metabolic action of many communities of bacteria. Activation of the drug depends on the composition and enzymes of the bacteria and of the specifics of the drug, and therefore a great deal of individual variation can affect both the usefulness of the drug and its tolerability. It is suggested that parenteral administration of antipsychotics would bypass the gut and be more successful in overcoming TRS. The composition of gut microbiota is variable between individuals, but they are seen to remain stable. However, phyla can change in response to many factors including ageing, diet, substance-use, and medications – especially antibiotics, laxatives, and antipsychotics. In FEP, schizophrenia has been linked to significant changes in the gut microbiota that can predict response to treatment.

Psychosocial Interventions

A number of psychosocial interventions that include several types of psychotherapy may be useful in the treatment of schizophrenia such as: family therapy, group therapy, cognitive remediation therapy, CBT, and metacognitive training. Skills training, and help with substance use, and weight management – often needed as a side effect of an antipsychotic, are also offered. In the US, interventions for first episode psychosis have been brought together in an overall approach known as coordinated speciality care (CSC) and also includes support for education. In the UK care across all phases is a similar approach that covers many of the treatment guidelines recommended. The aim is to reduce the number of relapses and stays in hospital.

Other support services for education, employment, and housing are usually offered. For people suffering from severe schizophrenia, and discharged from a stay in hospital, these services are often brought together in an integrated approach to offer support in the community away from the hospital setting. In addition to medicine management, housing, and finances, assistance is given for more routine matters such as help with shopping and using public transport. This approach is known as assertive community treatment (ACT) and has been shown to achieve positive results in symptoms, social functioning and quality of life. Another more intense approach is known as intensive care management (ICM). ICM is a stage further than ACT and emphasises support of high intensity in smaller caseloads, (less than twenty). This approach is to provide long-term care in the community. Studies show that ICM improves many of the relevant outcomes including social functioning.

Some studies have shown little evidence for the effectiveness of CBT in either reducing symptoms or preventing relapse. However, other studies have found that CBT does improve overall psychotic symptoms (when in use with medication) and has been recommended in Canada, but it has been seen here to have no effect on social function, relapse, or quality of life. In the UK it is recommended as an add-on therapy in the treatment of schizophrenia, but is not supported for use in treatment resistant schizophrenia. Arts therapies are seen to improve negative symptoms in some people, and are recommended by NICE in the UK. This approach however, is criticised as having not been well-researched, and arts therapies are not recommended in Australian guidelines for example. Peer support, in which people with personal experience of schizophrenia, provide help to each other, is of unclear benefit.

Other

Exercise including aerobic exercise has been shown to improve positive and negative symptoms, cognition, working memory, and improve quality of life. Exercise has also been shown to increase the volume of the hippocampus in those with schizophrenia. A decrease in hippocampal volume is one of the factors linked to the development of the disease. However, there still remains the problem of increasing motivation for, and maintaining participation in physical activity. Supervised sessions are recommended. In the UK healthy eating advice is offered alongside exercise programmes.

An inadequate diet is often found in schizophrenia, and associated vitamin deficiencies including those of folate, and vitamin D are linked to the risk factors for the development of schizophrenia and for early death including heart disease. Those with schizophrenia possibly have the worst diet of all the mental disorders. Lower levels of folate and vitamin D have been noted as significantly lower in first episode psychosis. The use of supplemental folate is recommended. A zinc deficiency has also been noted. Vitamin B12 is also often deficient and this is linked to worse symptoms. Supplementation with B vitamins has been shown to significantly improve symptoms, and to put in reverse some of the cognitive deficits. It is also suggested that the noted dysfunction in gut microbiota might benefit from the use of probiotics.

Violence

Most people with schizophrenia are not aggressive, and are more likely to be victims of violence rather than perpetrators. However, though the risk of violence in schizophrenia is small the association is consistent, and there are minor subgroups where the risk is high. This risk is usually associated with a comorbid disorder such as a substance use disorder – in particular alcohol, or with antisocial personality disorder. Substance abuse is strongly linked, and other risk factors are linked to deficits in cognition and social cognition including facial perception and insight that are in part included in theory of mind impairments. Poor cognitive functioning, decision-making, and facial perception may contribute to making a wrong judgement of a situation that could result in an inappropriate response such as violence. These associated risk factors are also present in antisocial personality disorder which when present as a comorbid disorder greatly increases the risk of violence.

A review in 2012 showed that schizophrenia was responsible for 6% of homicides in Western countries. Another wider review put the homicide figure at between 5-20%. There was found to be a greater risk of homicide during first episode psychosis that accounted for 38.5% of homicides. The association between schizophrenia and violence is complex. Homicide is linked with young age, male sex, a history of violence, and a stressful event in the preceding year. Clinical risk factors are severe untreated psychotic symptoms – untreated due to either not taking medication or to the condition being treatment resistant. A comorbid substance use disorder or an antisocial personality disorder increases the risk for homicidal behaviour by 8-fold, in contrast to the 2-fold risk in those without the comorbid disorders. Rates of homicide linked to psychosis are similar to those linked to substance misuse, and parallel the overall rate in a region. What role schizophrenia has on violence independent of substance misuse is controversial, but certain aspects of individual histories or mental states may be factors.

Hostility is anger felt and directed at a person or group and has related dimensions of impulsiveness and aggression. When this impulsive-aggression is evident in schizophrenia neuroimaging has suggested the malfunctioning of a neural circuit that modulates hostile thoughts and behaviours that are linked with negative emotions in social interactions. This circuit includes the amygdala, striatum, prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, insula, and hippocampus. Hostility has been reported during acute psychosis, and following hospital discharge. There is a known association between low cholesterol levels, and impulsivity, and violence. A review finds that people with schizophrenia, and lower cholesterol levels are four times more likely to instigate violent acts. This association is also linked to the increased number of suicides in schizophrenia. It is suggested that cholesterol levels could serve as a biomarker for violent and suicidal tendencies.

A review found that just under 10% of those with schizophrenia showed violent behaviour compared to 1.6% of the general population. An excessive risk of violence is associated with drugs or alcohol and increases the risk by as much as 4-fold. Violence often leads to imprisonment. Clozapine is an effective medication that can be used in penal settings such as prisons. However, a condition of benign ethnic neutropenia in many African-Americans excludes them from the use of clozapine the most effective medication. Cognitive deficits are recognised as playing an important part in the origin and maintenance of aggression, and cognitive remediation therapy may therefore help to prevent the risk of violence in schizophrenia.

Prognosis

Schizophrenia has great human and economic costs. It results in a decreased life expectancy of 20 years. This is primarily because of its association with obesity, poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle, and smoking, with an increased rate of suicide playing a lesser role. Side effects of antipsychotics may also increase the risk. These differences in life expectancy increased between the 1970s and 1990s. An Australian study puts the rate of early death at 25 years, and views the main cause to be related to heart disease.

Several studies indicate that almost 40% of those with schizophrenia die from complications of cardiovascular disease including heart attacks, and sudden cardiac death which is seen to be increasingly associated. An underlying factor of sudden cardiac death may be Brugada syndrome (BrS) – BrS mutations that overlap with those linked with schizophrenia are the calcium channel mutations. BrS may also be drug-induced from certain antipsychotics and antidepressants. Primary polydipsia, or excessive fluid intake, is relatively common in people with chronic schizophrenia. This may lead to hyponatremia which can be life-threatening. Antipsychotics can lead to a dry mouth, but there are several other factors that may contribute to the disorder. It is suggested to lead to a reduction in life expectancy by 13%. A study has suggested that real barriers to improving the mortality rate in schizophrenia are poverty, overlooking the symptoms of other illnesses, stress, stigma, and medication side effects, and that these need to be changed.

Schizophrenia is a major cause of disability. In 2016 it was classed as the 12th most disabling condition. Approximately 75% of people with schizophrenia have ongoing disability with relapses and 16.7 million people globally are deemed to have moderate or severe disability from the condition. Some people do recover completely and others function well in society. Most people with schizophrenia live independently with community support. About 85% are unemployed. In people with a first episode of psychosis in schizophrenia a good long-term outcome occurs in 31%, an intermediate outcome in 42% and a poor outcome in 31%. Males are affected more often than females, and have a worse outcome. Outcomes for schizophrenia appear better in the developing than the developed world. These conclusions have been questioned. Social problems, such as long-term unemployment, poverty, homelessness, exploitation, stigmatisation and victimisation are common consequences, and lead to social exclusion.

There is a higher than average suicide rate associated with schizophrenia estimated at around 5% to 6%, most often occurring in the period following onset or first hospital admission. Several times more (20 to 40%) attempt suicide at least once. There are a variety of risk factors, including male gender, depression, a high IQ, heavy smoking, and substance abuse. Repeated relapse is linked to an increased risk of suicidal behaviour. The use of clozapine can reduce the risk of suicide and aggression.

A strong association between schizophrenia and tobacco smoking has been shown in worldwide studies. Smoking is especially high in those diagnosed with schizophrenia, with estimates ranging from 80 to 90% being regular smokers, as compared to 20% of the general population. Those who smoke tend to smoke heavily, and additionally smoke cigarettes with high nicotine content. Some propose that this is in an effort to improve symptoms. Among people with schizophrenia use of cannabis is also common.

Society and Culture

In 2002, the term for schizophrenia in Japan was changed from seishin-bunretsu-byō (精神分裂病, lit. “mind-split disease”) to tōgō-shitchō-shō (統合失調症, lit. “integration-dysregulation syndrome”) to reduce stigma. The new name also interpreted as “integration disorder” was inspired by the biopsychosocial model; it increased the percentage of people who were informed of the diagnosis from 37 to 70% over three years. A similar change was made in South Korea in 2012 to attunement disorder. A professor of psychiatry, Jim van Os, has proposed changing the English term to psychosis spectrum syndrome. In 2013 with the reviewed DSM-5, the DSM-5 committee was in favour of giving a new name to schizophrenia but they referred this to WHO.

In the United States, the cost of schizophrenia – including direct costs (outpatient, inpatient, drugs, and long-term care) and non-health care costs (law enforcement, reduced workplace productivity, and unemployment) – was estimated to be $62.7 billion in 2002. In the UK the cost in 2016 was put at £11.8 billion per year with a third of that figure directly attributable to the cost of hospital and social care, and treatment.

The book A Beautiful Mind chronicled the life of John Forbes Nash who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia but who went on to win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. This was later made into the film with the same name. An earlier documentary was made with the title A Brilliant Madness.

In 1964, a lengthy case study of three males diagnosed with schizophrenia who each had the delusional belief that they were Jesus Christ was published as a book. This has the title of The Three Christs of Ypsilanti, and a film with the title Three Christs was released in 2020. Such religious delusions are a fairly common feature in psychoses including schizophrenia.

Media coverage relating to violent acts by people with schizophrenia reinforces public perception of an association between schizophrenia and violence. Such sensationalist reporting stigmatizes schizophrenia more than any other mental illness. In the UK guidelines are given for the reporting of different conditions. Its campaigns have shown a reduction in negative reporting.

Research Directions

Research into schizophrenia has made use of a number of animal models in particular rats, that have shown to be useful in evaluating the different aspects of its development and pathology. Effects of early intervention is an active area of research, importantly focusing on the early detection of at-risk individuals and the development of risk calculators. Methods for large-scale population screening are also included.

Various agents have been explored for possible effectiveness in treating negative symptoms, for which antipsychotics have been of little benefit. There have been trials on medications with anti-inflammatory activity, based on the premise that inflammation might play a role in the pathology of schizophrenia.

Various brain stimulation techniques are being studied to treat the positive symptoms of schizophrenia, in particular auditory verbal hallucinations (AVHs). A 2015 Cochrane review found unclear evidence of benefit. Most studies focus on transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCM), and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). Techniques based on focused ultrasound for deep brain stimulation could provide insight for the treatment of AVHs.

Another active area of research is the study of a variety of potential biomarkers that would be of invaluable help not only in the diagnosis but also in the treatment and prognosis of schizophrenia. Possible biomarkers include markers of inflammation, neuroimaging, BDNF, genetics, and speech analysis. Some inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein are useful in detecting levels of inflammation implicated in some psychiatric disorders but they are not disorder-specific. However, other inflammatory cytokines are found to be elevated in first episode psychosis and acute relapse that are normalised after treatment with antipsychotics, and these may be considered as state markers. Deficits in sleep spindles in schizophrenia may serve as a marker of an impaired thalamocortical circuit, and a mechanism for memory impairment. MicroRNAs are highly influential in early neuronal development, and their disruption is implicated in several CNS disorders; circulating microRNAs (cimiRNAs) are found in body fluids such as blood and cerebrospinal fluid, and changes in their levels are seen to relate to changes in microRNA levels in specific regions of brain tissue. These studies suggest that cimiRNAs have the potential to be early and accurate biomarkers in a number of disorders including schizophrenia.

The use of choline as a supplement during pregnancy may have effect in the prevention of the later development of schizophrenia, and is an area of research.

In 2020, over 3,000 clinical trials into drugs, symptom assessment tools, and treatments related to schizophrenia were listed with some recruiting, and some newly completed.

What is Agoraphobia?

Introduction

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder characterised by symptoms of anxiety in situations where the person perceives their environment to be unsafe with no easy way to escape. These situations can include open spaces, public transit, shopping centres, or simply being outside their home. Being in these situations may result in a panic attack. The symptoms occur nearly every time the situation is encountered and last for more than six months. Those affected will go to great lengths to avoid these situations. In severe cases people may become completely unable to leave their homes.

Agoraphobia is believed to be due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The condition often runs in families, and stressful or traumatic events such as the death of a parent or being attacked may be a trigger. In the DSM-5 agoraphobia is classified as a phobia along with specific phobias and social phobia. Other conditions that can produce similar symptoms include separation anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and major depressive disorder. Those affected are at higher risk of depression and substance use disorder.

Without treatment it is uncommon for agoraphobia to resolve. Treatment is typically with a type of counselling called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT results in resolution for about half of people. Agoraphobia affects about 1.7% of adults. Women are affected about twice as often as men. The condition often begins in early adulthood and becomes less common in old age. It is rare in children. The term “agoraphobia” is from Greek ἀγορά, agorā́, meaning a “place of assembly” or “market-place” and -φοβία, -phobía, meaning “fear.”

Refer to Hikikomori.

Signs and Symptoms

Agoraphobia is a condition where sufferers become anxious in unfamiliar environments or where they perceive that they have little control. Triggers for this anxiety may include wide-open spaces, crowds (social anxiety), or travelling (even short distances). Agoraphobia is often, but not always, compounded by a fear of social embarrassment, as the agoraphobic fears the onset of a panic attack and appearing distraught in public. Most of the time they avoid these areas and stay in the comfort of their safe haven, usually their home.

Agoraphobia is also defined as “a fear, sometimes terrifying, by those who have experienced one or more panic attacks”. In these cases, the sufferer is fearful of a particular place because they have experienced a panic attack at the same location at a previous time. Fearing the onset of another panic attack, the sufferer is fearful or even avoids a location. Some refuse to leave their homes even in medical emergencies because the fear of being outside of their comfort areas is too great.

The sufferers can sometimes go to great lengths to avoid the locations where they have experienced the onset of a panic attack. Agoraphobia, as described in this manner, is actually a symptom professionals check when making a diagnosis of panic disorder. Other syndromes like obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can also cause agoraphobia. Essentially, any irrational fear that keeps one from going outside can cause the syndrome.

Agoraphobics may suffer from temporary separation anxiety disorder when certain other individuals of the household depart from the residence temporarily, such as a parent or spouse, or when the agoraphobic is left home alone. Such temporary conditions can result in an increase in anxiety or a panic attack or feeling the need to separate themselves from family or maybe friends.

People with agoraphobia sometimes fear waiting outside for long periods of time; that symptom can be called “macrophobia.”

Panic Attacks

Agoraphobia patients can experience sudden panic attacks when traveling to places where they fear they are out of control, help would be difficult to obtain, or they could be embarrassed. During a panic attack, epinephrine is released in large amounts, triggering the body’s natural fight-or-flight response. A panic attack typically has an abrupt onset, building to maximum intensity within 10 to 15 minutes, and rarely lasts longer than 30 minutes. Symptoms of a panic attack include palpitations, rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, tightness in the throat, and shortness of breath. Many patients report a fear of dying, fear of losing control of emotions or fear of losing control of behaviours.

Causes

Agoraphobia is believed to be due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The condition often runs in families, and stressful or traumatic events such as the death of a parent or being attacked may be a trigger.

Research has uncovered a link between agoraphobia and difficulties with spatial orientation. Individuals without agoraphobia are able to maintain balance by combining information from their vestibular system, their visual system, and their proprioceptive sense. A disproportionate number of agoraphobics have weak vestibular function and consequently rely more on visual or tactile signals. They may become disoriented when visual cues are sparse (as in wide-open spaces) or overwhelming (as in crowds). Likewise, they may be confused by sloping or irregular surfaces. In a virtual reality study, agoraphobics showed impaired processing of changing audiovisual data in comparison with subjects without agoraphobia.

Substance Induced

Chronic use of tranquilisers and sleeping pills such as benzodiazepines has been linked to onset of agoraphobia. In 10 patients who had developed agoraphobia during benzodiazepine dependence, symptoms abated within the first year of assisted withdrawal. Similarly, alcohol use disorders are associated with panic with or without agoraphobia; this association may be due to the long-term effects of alcohol consumption causing a distortion in brain chemistry. Tobacco smoking has also been associated with the development and emergence of agoraphobia, often with panic disorder; it is uncertain how tobacco smoking results in anxiety-panic with or without agoraphobia symptoms, but the direct effects of nicotine dependence or the effects of tobacco smoke on breathing have been suggested as possible causes. Self-medication or a combination of factors may also explain the association between tobacco smoking and agoraphobia and panic.

Attachment Theory

Some scholars have explained agoraphobia as an attachment deficit, i.e. the temporary loss of the ability to tolerate spatial separations from a secure base. Recent empirical research has also linked attachment and spatial theories of agoraphobia.

Spatial Theory

In the social sciences, a perceived clinical bias exists in agoraphobia research. Branches of the social sciences, especially geography, have increasingly become interested in what may be thought of as a spatial phenomenon. One such approach links the development of agoraphobia with modernity. Factors considered contributing to agoraphobia within modernity are the ubiquity of cars and urbanization. These have helped develop the expansion of public space, on one hand, and the contraction of private space on the other, thus creating in the minds of agoraphobia-prone people a tense, unbridgeable gulf between the two.

Evolutionary Psychology

An evolutionary psychology view is that the more unusual primary agoraphobia without panic attacks may be due to a different mechanism from agoraphobia with panic attacks. Primary agoraphobia without panic attacks may be a specific phobia explained by it once having been evolutionarily advantageous to avoid exposed, large, open spaces without cover or concealment. Agoraphobia with panic attacks may be an avoidance response secondary to the panic attacks, due to fear of the situations in which the panic attacks occurred.

Diagnosis

Most people who present to mental health specialists develop agoraphobia after the onset of panic disorder. Agoraphobia is best understood as an adverse behavioural outcome of repeated panic attacks and subsequent anxiety and preoccupation with these attacks that leads to an avoidance of situations where a panic attack could occur. Early treatment of panic disorder can often prevent agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is typically determined when symptoms are worse than panic disorder, but also do not meet the criteria for other anxiety disorders such as depression. In rare cases where agoraphobics do not meet the criteria used to diagnose panic disorder, the formal diagnosis of agoraphobia without history of panic disorder is used (primary agoraphobia).

Treatments

Therapy

Systematic desensitisation can provide lasting relief to the majority of patients with panic disorder and agoraphobia. The disappearance of residual and sub-clinical agoraphobic avoidance, and not simply of panic attacks, should be the aim of exposure therapy. Many patients can deal with exposure easier if they are in the company of a friend on whom they can rely. Patients must remain in the situation until anxiety has abated because if they leave the situation, the phobic response will not decrease and it may even rise.

A related exposure treatment is in vivo exposure, a CBT method, that gradually exposes patients to the feared situations or objects. This treatment was largely effective with an effect size from d = 0.78 to d = 1.34, and these effects were shown to increase over time, proving that the treatment had long-term efficacy (up to 12 months after treatment).

Psychological interventions in combination with pharmaceutical treatments were overall more effective than treatments simply involving either CBT or pharmaceuticals. Further research showed there was no significant effect between using group CBT versus individual CBT.

Cognitive restructuring has also proved useful in treating agoraphobia. This treatment involves coaching a participant through a dianoetic discussion, with the intent of replacing irrational, counterproductive beliefs with more factual and beneficial ones.

Relaxation techniques are often useful skills for the agoraphobic to develop, as they can be used to stop or prevent symptoms of anxiety and panic.

Medications

Antidepressant medications most commonly used to treat anxiety disorders are mainly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Benzodiazepines, monoamine oxidase inhibitor, and tricyclic antidepressants are also sometimes prescribed for treatment of agoraphobia. Antidepressants are important because some have anxiolytic effects. Antidepressants should be used in conjunction with exposure as a form of self-help or with CBT. A combination of medication and cognitive behaviour therapy is sometimes the most effective treatment for agoraphobia.

Benzodiazepines and other anxiolytic medications such as alprazolam and clonazepam are used to treat anxiety and can also help control the symptoms of a panic attack. If taken for too long, they can cause dependence. Treatment with benzodiazepines should not exceed 4 weeks. Side effects may include confusion, drowsiness, light-headedness, loss of balance, and memory loss.

Alternative Medicine

Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) has been studied as a possible treatment for agoraphobia, with poor results. As such, EMDR is only recommended in cases where cognitive-behavioural approaches have proven ineffective or in cases where agoraphobia has developed following trauma.

Many people with anxiety disorders benefit from joining a self-help or support group (telephone conference-call support groups or online support groups being of particular help for completely housebound individuals). Sharing problems and achievements with others, as well as sharing various self-help tools, are common activities in these groups. In particular, stress management techniques and various kinds of meditation practices and visualisation techniques can help people with anxiety disorders calm themselves and may enhance the effects of therapy, as can service to others, which can distract from the self-absorption that tends to go with anxiety problems. Also, preliminary evidence suggests aerobic exercise may have a calming effect. Since caffeine, certain illicit drugs, and even some over-the-counter cold medications can aggravate the symptoms of anxiety disorders, they should be avoided.

Epidemiology

Agoraphobia occurs about twice as commonly among women as it does in men. The gender difference may be attributable to several factors: sociocultural traditions that encourage, or permit, the greater expression of avoidance coping strategies by women (including dependent and helpless behaviours), women perhaps being more likely to seek help and therefore be diagnosed, and men being more likely to abuse alcohol in reaction to anxiety and be diagnosed as an alcoholic. Research has not yet produced a single clear explanation for the gender difference in agoraphobia.

Panic disorder with or without agoraphobia affects roughly 5.1% of Americans, and about 1/3 of this population with panic disorder have co-morbid agoraphobia. It is uncommon to have agoraphobia without panic attacks, with only 0.17% of people with agoraphobia not presenting panic disorders as well.

In Popular Culture

Notable Cases

  • Woody Allen (b. 1935), American actor, director, musician.
  • Kim Basinger (b. 1953), American actress.
  • Earl Campbell (b. 1955), American pro football player.
  • Macaulay Culkin (b. 1980), American actor, known for his portrayal of Kevin McCallister in Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, said he had “self-diagnosed” agoraphobia.
  • Paula Deen (b. 1947), American chef, author, and television personality.
  • H.L. Gold (1914-1996), science fiction editor – as a result of trauma during his wartime experiences, his agoraphobia became so severe that for more than two decades he was unable to leave his apartment. Towards the end of his life, he acquired some control over the condition.
  • Daryl Hannah (b. 1960), American actress.
  • Howard Hughes (1905-1976), American aviator, industrialist, film producer and philanthropist.
  • Olivia Hussey (b. 1951), Anglo-Argentine actress.
  • Shirley Jackson (1916-1965), American writer – her agoraphobia is considered to be a primary inspiration for the novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
  • Elfriede Jelinek (b. 1946), Austrian writer, Nobel Prize laureate in Literature in 2004.
  • Bolesław Prus (1847-1912), Polish journalist and novelist.
  • Peter Robinson (b. 1962), British musician known as Marilyn.
  • Brian Wilson (b. 1942), American singer and songwriter, primary songwriter of the Beach Boys, a former recluse and agoraphobic who has schizophrenia.

What is Panic Disorder?

Introduction

Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder characterised by reoccurring unexpected panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense fear that may include palpitations, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, numbness, or a feeling that something terrible is going to happen. The maximum degree of symptoms occurs within minutes. There may be ongoing worries about having further attacks and avoidance of places where attacks have occurred in the past.

The cause of panic disorder is unknown. Panic disorder often runs in families. Risk factors include smoking, psychological stress, and a history of child abuse. Diagnosis involves ruling out other potential causes of anxiety including other mental disorders, medical conditions such as heart disease or hyperthyroidism, and drug use. Screening for the condition may be done using a questionnaire.

Panic disorder is usually treated with counselling and medications. The type of counselling used is typically cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which is effective in more than half of people. Medications used include antidepressants and occasionally benzodiazepines or beta blockers. Following stopping treatment up to 30% of people have a recurrence.

Panic disorder affects about 2.5% of people at some point in their life. It usually begins during adolescence or early adulthood but any age can be affected. It is less common in children and older people. Women are more often affected than men.

Signs and Symptoms

Panic disorder sufferers usually have a series of intense episodes of extreme anxiety during panic attacks. These attacks typically last about ten minutes, and can be as short-lived as 1-5 minutes, but can last twenty minutes to more than an hour, or until helpful intervention is made. Panic attacks can wax and wane for a period of hours (panic attacks rolling into one another), and the intensity and specific symptoms of panic may vary over the duration.

In some cases, the attack may continue at unabated high intensity or seem to be increasing in severity. Common symptoms of an attack include rapid heartbeat, perspiration, dizziness, dyspnoea, trembling, uncontrollable fear such as: the fear of losing control and going crazy, the fear of dying and hyperventilation. Other symptoms are a sensation of choking, paralysis, chest pain, nausea, numbness or tingling, chills or hot flashes, faintness, crying and some sense of altered reality. In addition, the person usually has thoughts of impending doom. Individuals suffering from an episode have often a strong wish of escaping from the situation that provoked the attack. The anxiety of panic disorder is particularly severe and noticeably episodic compared to that from generalised anxiety disorder. Panic attacks may be provoked by exposure to certain stimuli (e.g. seeing a mouse) or settings (e.g. the dentist’s office). Nocturnal panic attacks are common in people with panic disorder. Other attacks may appear unprovoked. Some individuals deal with these events on a regular basis, sometimes daily or weekly.

Limited symptom attacks are similar to panic attacks but have fewer symptoms. Most people with PD experience both panic attacks and limited symptom attacks.

Interoceptive

Studies investigating the relationship between interoception and panic disorder have shown that people with panic disorder feel heartbeat sensations more intensely when stimulated by pharmacological agents, suggesting that they experience heightened interoceptive awareness compared to subjects without PD.

Causes

Psychological Models

While there is not just one explanation for the cause of panic disorder, there are certain perspectives researchers use to explain the disorder. The first one is the biological perspective. Past research concluded that there is irregular norepinephrine activity in people who have panic attacks. Current research also supports this perspective as it has been found that those with panic disorder also have a brain circuit that performs improperly. This circuit consists of the amygdala, central gray matter, ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus, and the locus ceruleus.

There is also a cognitive perspective. Theorists believe that people with panic disorder may experience panic reactions because they mistake their bodily sensations for life-threatening situations. These bodily sensations cause some people to feel as though are out of control which may lead to feelings of panic. This misconception of bodily sensations is referred to as anxiety sensitivity, and studies suggest that people who score higher on anxiety sensitivity surveys are fives times more likely to be diagnosed with panic disorder.

Panic disorder has been found to run in families, which suggests that inheritance plays a strong role in determining who will get it.

Psychological factors, stressful life events, life transitions, and environment as well as often thinking in a way that exaggerates relatively normal bodily reactions are also believed to play a role in the onset of panic disorder. Often the first attacks are triggered by physical illnesses, major stress, or certain medications. People who tend to take on excessive responsibilities may develop a tendency to suffer panic attacks. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients also show a much higher rate of panic disorder than the general population.

Prepulse inhibition has been found to be reduced in patients with panic disorder.

Substance Misuse

Substance abuse is often correlated with panic attacks. In a study, 39% of people with panic disorder had abused substances. Of those who used alcohol, 63% reported that the alcohol use began prior to the onset of panic, and 59% of those abusing illicit drugs reported that drug use began first. The study that was conducted documented the panic-substance abuse relationship. Substance abuse began prior to the onset of panic and substances were used to self-medicate for panic attacks by only a few subjects.

In another study, 100 methamphetamine-dependent individuals were analysed for co-morbid psychiatric disorders; of the 100 individuals, 36% were categorised as having co-morbid psychiatric disorders. Mood and Psychotic disorders were more prevalent than anxiety disorders, which accounted for 7% of the 100 sampled individuals.

Smoking

Tobacco smoking increases the risk of developing panic disorder with or without agoraphobia and panic attacks; smoking started in adolescence or early adulthood particularly increases this risk of developing panic disorder. While the mechanism of how smoking increases panic attacks is not fully understood, a few hypotheses have been derived. Smoking cigarettes may lead to panic attacks by causing changes in respiratory function (e.g. feeling short of breath). These respiratory changes in turn can lead to the formation of panic attacks, as respiratory symptoms are a prominent feature of panic. Respiratory abnormalities have been found in children with high levels of anxiety, which suggests that a person with these difficulties may be susceptible to panic attacks, and thus more likely to subsequently develop panic disorder. Nicotine, a stimulant, could contribute to panic attacks. However, nicotine withdrawal may also cause significant anxiety which could contribute to panic attacks.

It is also possible that panic disorder patients smoke cigarettes as a form of self-medication to lessen anxiety. Nicotine and other psychoactive compounds with antidepressant properties in tobacco smoke which act as monoamine oxidase inhibitors in the brain can alter mood and have a calming effect, depending on dose.

Stimulants

A number of clinical studies have shown a positive association between caffeine ingestion and panic disorder and/or anxiogenic effects. People who have panic disorder are more sensitive to the anxiety-provoking effects of caffeine. One of the major anxiety-provoking effects of caffeine is an increase in heart rate.

Certain cold and flu medications containing decongestants may also contain pseudoephedrine, ephedrine, phenylephrine, naphazoline and oxymetazoline. These may be avoided by the use of decongestants formulated to prevent causing high blood pressure.

Alcohol and Sedatives

About 30% of people with panic disorder use alcohol and 17% use other psychoactive drugs. This is in comparison with 61% (alcohol) and 7.9% (other psychoactive drugs) of the general population who use alcohol and psychoactive drugs, respectively. Utilisation of recreational drugs or alcohol generally make symptoms worse. Most stimulant drugs (caffeine, nicotine, cocaine) would be expected to worsen the condition, since they directly increase the symptoms of panic, such as heart rate.

Deacon and Valentiner (2000) conducted a study that examined co-morbid panic attacks and substance use in a non-clinical sample of young adults who experienced regular panic attacks. The authors found that compared to healthy controls, sedative use was greater for non-clinical participants who experienced panic attacks. These findings are consistent with the suggestion made by Cox, Norton, Dorward, and Fergusson (1989) that panic disorder patients self-medicate if they believe that certain substances will be successful in alleviating their symptoms. If panic disorder patients are indeed self-medicating, there may be a portion of the population with undiagnosed panic disorder who will not seek professional help as a result of their own self-medication. In fact, for some patients panic disorder is only diagnosed after they seek treatment for their self-medication habit.

While alcohol initially helps ease panic disorder symptoms, medium- or long-term alcohol abuse can cause panic disorder to develop or worsen during alcohol intoxication, especially during alcohol withdrawal syndrome. This effect is not unique to alcohol but can also occur with long-term use of drugs which have a similar mechanism of action to alcohol such as the benzodiazepines which are sometimes prescribed as tranquilisers to people with alcohol problems. The reason chronic alcohol misuse worsens panic disorder is due to distortion of the brain chemistry and function.

Approximately 10% of patients will experience notable protracted withdrawal symptoms, which can include panic disorder, after discontinuation of benzodiazepines. Protracted withdrawal symptoms tend to resemble those seen during the first couple of months of withdrawal but usually are of a subacute level of severity compared to the symptoms seen during the first 2 or 3 months of withdrawal. It is not known definitively whether such symptoms persisting long after withdrawal are related to true pharmacological withdrawal or whether they are due to structural neuronal damage as a result of chronic use of benzodiazepines or withdrawal. Nevertheless, such symptoms do typically lessen as the months and years go by eventually disappearing altogether.

A significant proportion of patients attending mental health services for conditions including anxiety disorders such as panic disorder or social phobia have developed these conditions as a result of alcohol or sedative abuse. Anxiety may pre-exist alcohol or sedative dependence, which then acts to perpetuate or worsen the underlying anxiety disorder. Someone suffering the toxic effects of alcohol abuse or chronic sedative use or abuse will not benefit from other therapies or medications for underlying psychiatric conditions as they do not address the root cause of the symptoms. Recovery from sedative symptoms may temporarily worsen during alcohol withdrawal or benzodiazepine withdrawal.

Mechanism

The neuroanatomy of panic disorder largely overlaps with that of most anxiety disorders. Neuropsychological, neurosurgical, and neuroimaging studies implicate the insula, amygdala, hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), lateral prefrontal cortex, and periaqueductal grey. During acute panic attacks, viewing emotionally charged words, and rest, most studies find elevated blood flow or metabolism. However, the observation of amygdala hyperactivity is not entirely consistent, especially in studies that evoke panic attacks chemically. Hippocampus hyperactivity has been observed during rest and viewing emotionally charged pictures, which has been hypothesized to be related to memory retrieval bias towards anxious memories. Insula hyperactivity during the onset of and over the course of acute panic episodes is thought to be related to abnormal introceptive processes; the perception that bodily sensations are “wrong” is a transdiagnostic finding(i.e. found across multiple anxiety disorders), and may be related to insula dysfunction. Rodent and human studies heavily implicate the periaqueductal grey in generating fear responses, and abnormalities related to the structure and metabolism in the PAG have been reported in panic disorder. The frontal cortex is implicated in panic disorder by multiple lines of evidence. Damage to the dorsal ACC has been reported to lead to panic disorder. Elevated ventral ACC and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during symptom provocation and viewing emotional stimuli have also been reported, although findings are not consistent.

Researchers studying some individuals with panic disorder propose they may have a chemical imbalance within the limbic system and one of its regulatory chemicals gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA-A). The reduced production of GABA-A sends false information to the amygdala which regulates the body’s “fight or flight” response mechanism and, in return, produces the physiological symptoms that lead to the disorder. Clonazepam, an anticonvulsant benzodiazepine with a long half-life, has been successful in keeping the condition under control.

Recently, researchers have begun to identify mediators and moderators of aspects of panic disorder. One such mediator is the partial pressure of carbon dioxide, which mediates the relationship between panic disorder patients receiving breathing training and anxiety sensitivity; thus, breathing training affects the partial pressure of carbon dioxide in a patient’s arterial blood, which in turn lowers anxiety sensitivity. Another mediator is hypochondriacal concerns, which mediate the relationship between anxiety sensitivity and panic symptomatology; thus, anxiety sensitivity affects hypochondriacal concerns which, in turn, affect panic symptomatology.

Perceived threat control has been identified as a moderator within panic disorder, moderating the relationship between anxiety sensitivity and agoraphobia; thus, the level of perceived threat control dictates the degree to which anxiety sensitivity results in agoraphobia. Another recently identified moderator of panic disorder is genetic variations in the gene coding for galanin; these genetic variations moderate the relationship between females suffering from panic disorder and the level of severity of panic disorder symptomatology.

Diagnosis

The DSM-IV-TR diagnostic criteria for panic disorder require unexpected, recurrent panic attacks, followed in at least one instance by at least a month of a significant and related behaviour change, a persistent concern of more attacks, or a worry about the attack’s consequences. There are two types, one with and one without agoraphobia. Diagnosis is excluded by attacks due to a drug or medical condition, or by panic attacks that are better accounted for by other mental disorders.

The ICD-10 diagnostic criteria:

  • The essential feature is recurrent attacks of severe anxiety (panic), which are not restricted to any particular situation or set of circumstances and are therefore unpredictable.

The dominant symptoms include:

  • Sudden onset of palpitations.
  • Chest pain.
  • Choking sensations.
  • Dizziness.
  • Feelings of unreality (depersonalisation or derealisation).
  • Secondary fear of dying, losing control, or going mad.
  • Panic disorder should not be given as the main diagnosis if the person has a depressive disorder at the time the attacks start; in these circumstances, the panic attacks are probably secondary to depression.

The Panic Disorder Severity Scale (PDSS) is a questionnaire for measuring the severity of panic disorder.

Treatment

Panic disorder is a serious health problem that in many cases can be successfully treated, although there is no known cure. Identification of treatments that engender as full a response as possible, and can minimise relapse, is imperative. CBT and positive self-talk specific for panic are the treatments of choice for panic disorder. Several studies show that 85% to 90% of panic disorder patients treated with CBT recover completely from their panic attacks within 12 weeks. When CBT is not an option, pharmacotherapy can be used. SSRIs are considered a first-line pharmacotherapeutic option.

Psychotherapy

Panic disorder is not the same as phobic symptoms, although phobias commonly result from panic disorder. CBT and one tested form of psychodynamic psychotherapy have been shown efficacious in treating panic disorder with and without agoraphobia. A number of randomized clinical trials have shown that CBT achieves reported panic-free status in 70-90% of patients about 2 years after treatment.

A 2009 Cochrane review found little evidence concerning the efficacy of psychotherapy in combination with benzodiazepines such that recommendations could not be made.

Symptom inductions generally occur for one minute and may include:

  • Intentional hyperventilation creates lightheadedness, derealisation, blurred vision, and dizziness.
  • Spinning in a chair creates dizziness and disorientation.
  • Straw breathing creates dyspnoea and airway constriction.
  • Breath holding creates sensation of being out of breath.
  • Running in place creates increased heart rate, respiration, and perspiration.
  • Body tensing creates feelings of being tense and vigilant.

Another form of psychotherapy that has shown effectiveness in controlled clinical trials is panic-focused psychodynamic psychotherapy, which focuses on the role of dependency, separation anxiety, and anger in causing panic disorder. The underlying theory posits that due to biochemical vulnerability, traumatic early experiences, or both, people with panic disorder have a fearful dependence on others for their sense of security, which leads to separation anxiety and defensive anger. Therapy involves first exploring the stressors that lead to panic episodes, then probing the psychodynamics of the conflicts underlying panic disorder and the defence mechanisms that contribute to the attacks, with attention to transference and separation anxiety issues implicated in the therapist-patient relationship.

Comparative clinical studies suggest that muscle relaxation techniques and breathing exercises are not efficacious in reducing panic attacks. In fact, breathing exercises may actually increase the risk of relapse.

Appropriate treatment by an experienced professional can prevent panic attacks or at least substantially reduce their severity and frequency – bringing significant relief to 70% to 90% of people with panic disorder. Relapses may occur, but they can often be effectively treated just like the initial episode.

vanApeldoorn, F.J. et al. (2011) demonstrated the additive value of a combined treatment incorporating an SSRI treatment intervention with CBT. Gloster et al. (2011) went on to examine the role of the therapist in CBT. They randomised patients into two groups: one being treated with CBT in a therapist guided environment, and the second receiving CBT through instruction only, with no therapist guided sessions. The findings indicated that the first group had a somewhat better response rate, but that both groups demonstrated a significant improvement in reduction of panic symptomatology. These findings lend credibility to the application of CBT programs to patients who are unable to access therapeutic services due to financial, or geographic inaccessibility. Koszycky et al. (2011) discuss the efficacy of self-administered CBT (SCBT) in situations where patients are unable to retain the services of a therapist. Their study demonstrates that it is possible for SCBT in combination with an SSRI to be as effective as therapist-guided CBT with SSRI. Each of these studies contributes to a new avenue of research that allows effective treatment interventions to be made more easily accessible to the population.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT encourages patients to confront the triggers that induce their anxiety. By facing the very cause of the anxiety, it is thought to help diminish the irrational fears that are causing the issues to begin with. The therapy begins with calming breathing exercises, followed by noting the changes in physical sensations felt as soon as anxiety begins to enter the body. Many clients are encouraged to keep journals. In other cases, therapists may try and induce feelings of anxiety so that the root of the fear can be identified.

Comorbid clinical depression, personality disorders and alcohol abuse are known risk factors for treatment failure.

As with many disorders, having a support structure of family and friends who understand the condition can help increase the rate of recovery. During an attack, it is not uncommon for the sufferer to develop irrational, immediate fear, which can often be dispelled by a supporter who is familiar with the condition. For more serious or active treatment, there are support groups for anxiety sufferers which can help people understand and deal with the disorder.

Current treatment guidelines American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association primarily recommend either CBT or one of a variety of psychopharmacological interventions. Some evidence exists supporting the superiority of combined treatment approaches.

Another option is self-help based on principles of CBT. Using a book or a website, a person does the kinds of exercises that would be used in therapy, but they do it on their own, perhaps with some email or phone support from a therapist. A systematic analysis of trials testing this kind of self-help found that websites, books, and other materials based on CBT could help some people. The best-studied conditions are panic disorder and social phobia.

Interoceptive Techniques

Interoceptive exposure is sometimes used for panic disorder. People’s interoceptive triggers of anxiety are evaluated one-by-one before conducting interoceptive exposures, such as addressing palpitation sensitivity via light exercise. Despite evidence of its clinical efficacy, this practice is reportedly used by only 12-20% of psychotherapists. Potential reasons for this underutilisation include “lack of training sites, logistical hurdles (e.g. occasional need for exposure durations longer than a standard therapy session), policies against conducting exposures outside of the workplace setting, and perhaps most tellingly, negative therapist beliefs (e.g. that interoceptive exposures are unethical, intolerable, or even harmful).”

Medication

Appropriate medications are effective for panic disorder. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are first line treatments rather than benzodiazepines due to concerns with the latter regarding tolerance, dependence and abuse. Although there is little evidence that pharmacological interventions can directly alter phobias, few studies have been performed, and medication treatment of panic makes phobia treatment far easier (an example in Europe where only 8% of patients receive appropriate treatment).

Medications can include:

  • Antidepressants (SSRIs, MAOIs, tricyclic antidepressants and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors).
  • Antianxiety agents (benzodiazepines):
    • Use of benzodiazepines for panic disorder is controversial.
    • The American Psychiatric Association states that benzodiazepines can be effective for the treatment of panic disorder and recommends that the choice of whether to use benzodiazepines, antidepressants with anti-panic properties or psychotherapy should be based on the individual patient’s history and characteristics.
    • Other experts believe that benzodiazepines are best avoided due to the risks of the development of tolerance and physical dependence.
    • The World Federation of Societies of Biological Psychiatry, say that benzodiazepines should not be used as a first-line treatment option but are an option for treatment-resistant cases of panic disorder.
    • Despite increasing focus on the use of antidepressants and other agents for the treatment of anxiety as recommended best practice, benzodiazepines have remained a commonly used medication for panic disorder.
    • They reported that in their view there is insufficient evidence to recommend one treatment over another for panic disorder.
    • The APA noted that while benzodiazepines have the advantage of a rapid onset of action, that this is offset by the risk of developing a benzodiazepine dependence.
    • The UKs National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) came to a different conclusion, they pointed out the problems of using uncontrolled clinical trials to assess the effectiveness of pharmacotherapy and based on placebo-controlled research they concluded that benzodiazepines were not effective in the long-term for panic disorder and recommended that benzodiazepines not be used for longer than 4 weeks for panic disorder.
    • Instead NICE clinical guidelines recommend alternative pharmacotherapeutic or psychotherapeutic interventions.
    • When compared to placebos, benzodiazepines demonstrate possible superiority in the short term but the evidence is low quality with limited applicability to clinical practice.

Other Treatments

For some people, anxiety can be greatly reduced by discontinuing the use of caffeine. Anxiety can temporarily increase during caffeine withdrawal.

Epidemiology

Panic disorder typically begins during early adulthood; roughly half of all people who have panic disorder develop the condition between the ages of 17 and 24, especially those subjected to traumatic experiences. However, some studies suggest that the majority of young people affected for the first time are between the ages of 25 and 30. Women are twice as likely as men to develop panic disorder and it occurs far more often in people with above average intelligence.

Panic disorder can continue for months or years, depending on how and when treatment is sought. If left untreated, it may worsen to the point where one’s life is seriously affected by panic attacks and by attempts to avoid or conceal the condition. In fact, many people have had problems with personal relationships, education and employment while struggling to cope with panic disorder. Some people with panic disorder may conceal their condition because of the stigma of mental illness. In some individuals, symptoms may occur frequently for a period of months or years, then many years may pass with little or no symptoms. In some cases, the symptoms persist at the same level indefinitely. There is also some evidence that many individuals (especially those who develop symptoms at an early age) may experience symptom cessation later in life (e.g. past age 50).

In 2000, the World Health Organisation found prevalence and incidence rates for panic disorder to be very similar across the globe. Age-standardised prevalence per 100,000 ranged from 309 in Africa to 330 in East Asia for men and from 613 in Africa to 649 in North America, Oceania, and Europe for women.

Children

A retrospective study has shown that 40% of adult panic disorder patients reported that their disorder began before the age of 20. In an article examining the phenomenon of panic disorder in youth, Diler et al. (2004) found that only a few past studies have examined the occurrence of juvenile panic disorder. They report that these studies have found that the symptoms of juvenile panic disorder almost replicate those found in adults (e.g. heart palpitations, sweating, trembling, hot flashes, nausea, abdominal distress, and chills). The anxiety disorders co-exist with staggeringly high numbers of other mental disorders in adults. The same comorbid disorders that are seen in adults are also reported in children with juvenile panic disorder. Last and Strauss (1989) examined a sample of 17 adolescents with panic disorder and found high rates of comorbid anxiety disorders, major depressive disorder, and conduct disorders. Eassau et al. (1999) also found a high number of comorbid disorders in a community-based sample of adolescents with panic attacks or juvenile panic disorder. Within the sample, adolescents were found to have the following comorbid disorders: major depressive disorder (80%), dysthymic disorder (40%), generalised anxiety disorder (40%), somatoform disorders (40%), substance abuse (40%), and specific phobia (20%). Consistent with this previous work, Diler et al. (2004) found similar results in their study in which 42 youths with juvenile panic disorder were examined. Compared to non-panic anxiety disordered youths, children with panic disorder had higher rates of comorbid major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder.

Children differ from adolescents and adults in their interpretation and ability to express their experience. Like adults, children experience physical symptoms including accelerated heart rate, sweating, trembling or shaking, shortness of breath, nausea or stomach pain, dizziness or light-headedness. In addition, children also experience cognitive symptoms like fear of dying, feelings of being detached from oneself, feelings of losing control or going crazy, but they are unable to vocalize these higher-order manifestations of fear. They simply know that something is going wrong and that they are very afraid. Children can only describe physical symptoms. They have not yet developed the constructs to put these symptoms together and label them as fear. Parents often feel helpless when they watch a child suffer. They can help children give a name to their experience, and empower them to overcome the fear they are experiencing.

The role of the parent in treatment and intervention for children diagnosed with panic disorder is discussed by McKay & Starch (2011). They point out that there are several levels at which parental involvement should be considered. The first involves the initial assessment. Parents, as well as the child, should be screened for attitudes and treatment goals, as well as for levels of anxiety or conflict in the home. The second involves the treatment process in which the therapist should meet with the family as a unit as frequently as possible. Ideally, all family members should be aware and trained in the process of CBT in order to encourage the child to rationalize and face fears rather than employ avoidant safety behaviours. McKay & Storch (2011) suggest training/modelling of therapeutic techniques and in-session involvement of the parents in the treatment of children to enhance treatment efficacy.

Despite the evidence pointing to the existence of early-onset panic disorder, the DSM-IV-TR currently only recognizes six anxiety disorders in children: separation anxiety disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, specific phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder (a.k.a. social phobia), and post-traumatic stress disorder. Panic disorder is notably excluded from this list.

What is a Panic Attack?

Introduction

Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense fear that may include palpitations, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, numbness, or a feeling of impending doom. The maximum degree of symptoms occurs within minutes. Typically they last for about 30 minutes but the duration can vary from seconds to hours. There may be a fear of losing control or chest pain. Panic attacks themselves are not dangerous physically.

Panic attacks can occur due to several disorders including panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug use disorder, depression, and medical problems. They can either be triggered or occur unexpectedly. Smoking, caffeine, and psychological stress increase the risk of having a panic attack. Before diagnosis, conditions that produce similar symptoms should be ruled out, such as hyperthyroidism, hyperparathyroidism, heart disease, lung disease, drug use, and dysautonomia.

Treatment of panic attacks should be directed at the underlying cause. In those with frequent attacks, counselling or medications may be used. Breathing training and muscle relaxation techniques may also help. Those affected are at a higher risk of suicide.

In Europe, about 3% of the population has a panic attack in a given year while in the United States they affect about 11%. They are more common in females than in males. They often begin during puberty or early adulthood. Children and older people are less commonly affected.

Signs and Symptoms

People with panic attacks often report a fear of dying or heart attack, flashing vision, faintness or nausea, numbness throughout the body, heavy breathing and hyperventilation, or loss of body control. Some people also suffer from tunnel vision, mostly due to blood flow leaving the head to more critical parts of the body in defence. These feelings may provoke a strong urge to escape or flee the place where the attack began (a consequence of the “fight-or-flight response”, in which the hormone causing this response is released in significant amounts). This response floods the body with hormones, particularly epinephrine (adrenaline), which aid it in defending against harm.

A panic attack can result when up-regulation by the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is not moderated by the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The most common symptoms include trembling, dyspnoea (shortness of breath), heart palpitations, chest pain (or chest tightness), hot flashes, cold flashes, burning sensations (particularly in the facial or neck area), sweating, nausea, dizziness (or slight vertigo), light-headedness, heavy-headedness, hyperventilation, paraesthesia’s’ (tingling sensations), sensations of choking or smothering, difficulty moving, depersonalisation and/or derealization. These physical symptoms are interpreted with alarm in people prone to panic attacks. This results in increased anxiety and forms a positive feedback loop.

Shortness of breath and chest pain are the predominant symptoms. People experiencing a panic attack may incorrectly attribute them to a heart attack and thus seek treatment in an emergency room. Because chest pain and shortness of breath are hallmark symptoms of cardiovascular illnesses, including unstable angina and myocardial infarction (heart attack), a diagnosis of exclusion (ruling out other conditions) must be performed before diagnosing a panic attack. It is especially important to do this for people whose mental health and heart health statuses are unknown. This can be done using an electrocardiogram and mental health assessments.

Panic attacks are distinguished from other forms of anxiety by their intensity and their sudden, episodic nature. They are often experienced in conjunction with anxiety disorders and other psychological conditions, although panic attacks are not generally indicative of a mental disorder.

Causes

There are long-term, biological, environmental, and social causes of panic attacks. In 1993, Fava et al. proposed a staging method of understanding the origins of disorders. The first stage in developing a disorder involves predisposing factors, such as genetics, personality, and a lack of well-being. Panic disorder often occurs in early adulthood, although it may appear at any age. It occurs more frequently in women and more often in people with above-average intelligence. Various twin studies where one identical twin has an anxiety disorder have reported a high incidence of the other twin also having an anxiety disorder diagnosis.

Biological causes may include obsessive-compulsive disorder, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, hypoglycaemia, hyperthyroidism, Wilson’s disease, mitral valve prolapse, pheochromocytoma, and inner ear disturbances (labyrinthitis). Dysregulation of the norepinephrine system in the locus coeruleus, an area of the brain stem, has been linked to panic attacks.

Panic attacks may also occur due to short-term stressors. Significant personal loss, including an emotional attachment to a romantic partner, life transitions, and significant life changes may all trigger a panic attack to occur. A person with an anxious temperament, excessive need for reassurance, hypochondriacal fears, overcautious view of the world, and cumulative stress have been correlated with panic attacks. In adolescents, social transitions may also be a cause.

People will often experience panic attacks as a direct result of exposure to an object/situation that they have a phobia for. Panic attacks may also become situationally-bound when certain situations are associated with panic due to previously experiencing an attack in that particular situation. People may also have a cognitive or behavioural predisposition to having panic attacks in certain situations.

Some maintaining causes include avoidance of panic-provoking situations or environments, anxious/negative self-talk (“what-if” thinking), mistaken beliefs (“these symptoms are harmful and/or dangerous”), and withheld feelings.

Hyperventilation syndrome may occur when a person breathes from the chest, which can lead to over-breathing (exhaling excessive carbon dioxide related to the amount of oxygen in one’s bloodstream). Hyperventilation syndrome can cause respiratory alkalosis and hypocapnia. This syndrome often involves prominent mouth breathing as well. This causes a cluster of symptoms, including rapid heartbeat, dizziness, and lightheadedness, which can trigger panic attacks.

Panic attacks may also be caused by substances. Discontinuation or marked reduction in the dose of a substance such as a drug (drug withdrawal), for example, an antidepressant (antidepressant discontinuation syndrome), can cause a panic attack. According to the Harvard Mental Health Letter, “the most commonly reported side effects of smoking marijuana are anxiety and panic attacks. Studies report that about 20% to 30% of recreational users experience such problems after smoking marijuana.” Cigarette smoking is another substance that has been linked to panic attacks.

A common denominator of current psychiatric approaches to panic disorder is that no real danger exists, and the person’s anxiety is inappropriate.

Panic Disorder

Refer to Panic Disorder.

People who have repeated, persistent attacks or feel severe anxiety about having another attack are said to have panic disorder. Panic disorder is strikingly different from other types of anxiety disorders in that panic attacks are often sudden and unprovoked. However, panic attacks experienced by those with panic disorder may also be linked to or heightened by certain places or situations, making daily life difficult.

Agoraphobia

Refer to Agoraphobia and Hikikomori.

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that primarily consists of the fear of experiencing a difficult or embarrassing situation from which the sufferer cannot escape. Panic attacks are commonly linked to agoraphobia and the fear of not being able to escape a bad situation. As the result, severe sufferers of agoraphobia may become confined to their homes, experiencing difficulty traveling from this “safe place”. The word “agoraphobia” is an English adoption of the Greek words agora (αγορά) and Phobos (φόβος). The term “agora” refers to the place where ancient Greeks used to gather and talk about issues of the city, so it applies to any or all public places; however, the essence of agoraphobia is a fear of panic attacks especially if they occur in public as the victim may feel like he or she has no escape. In the case of agoraphobia caused by a social phobia or social anxiety, sufferers may be very embarrassed by having a panic attack publicly in the first place. This translation is the reason for the common misconception that agoraphobia is a fear of open spaces, and is not clinically accurate. Agoraphobia, as described in this manner, is a symptom professionals check for when making a diagnosis of panic disorder. In Japan, people who exhibit extreme agoraphobia to the point of becoming unwilling or unable to leave their homes are referred to as Hikikomori. The phenomena in general is known by the same name, and it is estimated that roughly half a million Japanese youths are Hikikomori.

People who have had a panic attack in certain situations may develop irrational fears, called phobias, of these situations and begin to avoid them. Eventually, the pattern of avoidance and level of anxiety about another attack may reach the point where individuals with panic disorder are unable to drive or even step out of the house. At this stage, the person is said to have panic disorder with agoraphobia.

Experimentally Induced

Panic attack symptoms can be experimentally induced in the laboratory by various means. Among them, for research purposes, by administering a bolus injection of the neuropeptide cholecystokinin-tetrapeptide (CCK-4). Various animal models of panic attacks have been experimentally studied.

Neurotransmitter Imbalances

Many neurotransmitters are affected when the body is under the increased stress and anxiety that accompany a panic attack. Some include serotonin, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), dopamine, norepinephrine, and glutamate. More research into how these neurotransmitters interact with one another during a panic attack is needed to make any solid conclusions, however.

An increase of serotonin in certain pathways of the brain seems to be correlated with reduced anxiety. More evidence that suggests serotonin plays a role in anxiety is that people who take SSRIs tend to feel a reduction of anxiety when their brain has more serotonin available to use.

The main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system (CNS) is GABA. Most of the pathways that use GABA tend to reduce anxiety immediately.

Dopamine’s role in anxiety is not well understood. Some antipsychotic medications that affect dopamine production have been proven to treat anxiety. However, this may be attributed to dopamine’s tendency to increase feelings of self-efficacy and confidence, which indirectly reduces anxiety.

Many physical symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid heart rate and hand tremors, are regulated by norepinephrine. Drugs that counteract norepinephrine’s effect may be effective in reducing the physical symptoms of a panic attack. Nevertheless, some drugs that increase ‘background’ norepinephrine levels such as tricyclics and SNRIs are effective for the long-term treatment of panic attacks, possibly by blunting the norepinephrine spikes associated with panic attacks.

Because glutamate is the primary excitatory neurotransmitter involved in the central nervous system (CNS), it can be found in almost every neural pathway in the body. Glutamate is likely involved in conditioning, which is the process by which certain fears are formed, and extinction, which is the elimination of those fears.

Pathophysiology

The symptoms of a panic attack may cause the person to feel that their body is failing. The symptoms can be understood as follows. First, there is frequently the sudden onset of fear with little provoking stimulus. This leads to a release of adrenaline (epinephrine) which brings about the fight-or-flight response when the body prepares for strenuous physical activity. This leads to an increased heart rate (tachycardia), rapid breathing (hyperventilation) which may be perceived as shortness of breath (dyspnoea), and sweating. Because strenuous activity rarely ensues, the hyperventilation leads to a drop in carbon dioxide levels in the lungs and then in the blood. This leads to shifts in blood pH (respiratory alkalosis or hypocapnia), causing compensatory metabolic acidosis activating chemosensing mechanisms that translate this pH shift into autonomic and respiratory responses.

Moreover, this hypocapnia and release of adrenaline during a panic attack cause vasoconstriction resulting in slightly less blood flow to the head which causes dizziness and lightheadedness. A panic attack can cause blood sugar to be drawn away from the brain and toward the major muscles. Neuroimaging suggests heightened activity in the amygdala, thalamus, hypothalamus, and brainstem regions including the periaqueductal gray, parabrachial nucleus, and Locus coeruleus. In particular, the amygdala has been suggested to have a critical role. The combination of increased activity in the amygdala (fear centre) and brainstem along with decreased blood flow and blood sugar in the brain can lead to decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) region of the brain. There is evidence that having an anxiety disorder increases the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Those affected also have a reduction in heart rate variability.

Cardiovascular Disease

People who have been diagnosed with panic disorder have approximately double the risk of coronary heart disease. Certain stress responses to depression also have been shown to increase the risk and those diagnosed with both depression and panic disorder are nearly three times more at risk.

Diagnosis

DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for a panic attack include a discrete period of intense fear or discomfort, in which four (or more) of the following symptoms developed abruptly and reached a peak within minutes:

  • Palpitations, and/or accelerated heart rate.
  • Sweating.
  • Trembling or shaking.
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or being smothered.
  • Feeling of choking.
  • Chest pain or discomfort.
  • Nausea or abdominal distress.
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint.
  • Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalisation (being detached from oneself).
  • Fear of losing control or going insane.
  • Sense of impending doom.
  • Paraesthesia’s (numbness or tingling sensations).
  • Chills or hot flashes..

In DSM-5, culture-specific symptoms (e.g., tinnitus, neck soreness, headache, and uncontrollable screaming or crying) may be seen. Such symptoms should not count as one of the four required symptoms.

Some or all of these symptoms can be found in the presence of a pheochromocytoma.

Screening tools such as the Panic Disorder Severity Scale can be used to detect possible cases of disorder and suggest the need for a formal diagnostic assessment.

Treatment

Panic disorder can be effectively treated with a variety of interventions, including psychological therapies and medication. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) has the most complete and longest duration of effect, followed by specific selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). A 2009 review found positive results from therapy and medication and a much better result when the two were combined.

Lifestyle Changes

Caffeine may cause or exacerbate panic anxiety. Anxiety can temporarily increase during withdrawal from caffeine and various other drugs.

Increased and regimented aerobic exercise such as running has been shown to have a positive effect on combating panic anxiety. There is evidence that suggests that this effect is correlated to the release of exercise-induced endorphins and the subsequent reduction of the stress hormone cortisol.

There remains a chance of panic symptoms becoming triggered or being made worse due to increased respiration rate that occurs during aerobic exercise. This increased respiration rate can lead to hyperventilation and hyperventilation syndrome, which mimics symptoms of a heart attack, thus inducing a panic attack. The benefits of incorporating an exercise regimen have shown the best results when paced accordingly.

Muscle relaxation techniques are useful to some individuals. These can be learned using recordings, videos, or books. While muscle relaxation has proved to be less effective than CBT in controlled trials, many people still find at least temporary relief from muscle relaxation.

Breathing Exercises

In the great majority of cases, hyperventilation is involved, exacerbating the effects of the panic attack. Breathing retraining exercise helps to rebalance the oxygen and CO2 levels in the blood.

David D. Burns recommends breathing exercises for those suffering from anxiety. One such breathing exercise is a 5-2-5 count. Using the stomach (or diaphragm) – and not the chest – inhale (feel the stomach come out, as opposed to the chest expanding) for 5 seconds. As the maximal point at inhalation is reached, hold the breath for 2 seconds. Then slowly exhale, over 5 seconds. Repeat this cycle twice and then breathe ‘normally’ for 5 cycles (1 cycle = 1 inhale + 1 exhale). The point is to focus on breathing and relax the heart rate. Regular diaphragmatic breathing may be achieved by extending the out-breath by counting or humming.

Although breathing into a paper bag was a common recommendation for short-term treatment of symptoms of an acute panic attack, it has been criticised as inferior to measured breathing, potentially worsening the panic attack and possibly reducing needed blood oxygen. While the paper bag technique increases needed carbon dioxide and so reduces symptoms, it may excessively lower oxygen levels in the bloodstream.

Capnometry, which provides exhaled CO2 levels, may help guide breathing.

Therapy

According to the American Psychological Association, “most specialists agree that a combination of cognitive and behavioural therapies are the best treatment for panic disorder. Medication might also be appropriate in some cases.” The first part of therapy is largely informational; many people are greatly helped by simply understanding exactly what panic disorder is and how many others suffer from it. Many people who suffer from panic disorder are worried that their panic attacks mean they are “going crazy” or that the panic might induce a heart attack. Cognitive restructuring helps people replace those thoughts with more realistic, positive ways of viewing the attacks. Avoidance behaviour is one of the key aspects that prevent people with frequent panic attacks from functioning healthily. Exposure therapy, which includes repeated and prolonged confrontation with feared situations and body sensations, helps weaken anxiety responses to these external and internal stimuli and reinforce realistic ways of viewing panic symptoms.

In deeper level psychoanalytic approaches, in particular object relations theory, panic attacks are frequently associated with splitting (psychology), paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions, and paranoid anxiety. They are often found comorbid with borderline personality disorder and child sexual abuse. Paranoid anxiety may reach the level of a persecutory anxiety state.

Meditation may also be helpful in the treatment of panic disorders. There was a meta-analysis of the comorbidity of panic disorders and agoraphobia. It used exposure therapy to treat patients over a period. Hundreds of patients were used in these studies and they all met the DSM-IV criteria for both of these disorders. A result was that 32% of patients had a panic episode after treatment. They concluded that the use of exposure therapy has lasting efficacy for a client who is living with a panic disorder and agoraphobia.

The efficacy of group therapy treatment over conventional individual therapy for people with panic disorder with or without agoraphobia appears similar.

Medication

Medication options for panic attacks typically include benzodiazepines and antidepressants. Benzodiazepines are being prescribed less often because of their potential side effects, such as dependence, fatigue, slurred speech, and memory loss. Antidepressant treatments for panic attacks include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), and MAO inhibitors (MAOIs). SSRIs in particular tend to be the first drug treatment used to treat panic attacks. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants appear similar for short-term efficacy.

SSRIs carry a relatively low risk since they are not associated with much tolerance or dependence, and are difficult to overdose with. TCAs are similar to SSRIs in their many advantages but come with more common side effects such as weight gain and cognitive disturbances. They are also easier to overdose on. MAOIs are generally suggested for patients who have not responded to other forms of treatment.

While the use of drugs in treating panic attacks can be very successful, it is generally recommended that people also be in some form of therapy, such as CBT. Drug treatments are usually used throughout the duration of panic attack symptoms and discontinued after the patient has been free of symptoms for at least six months. It is usually safest to withdraw from these drugs gradually while undergoing therapy. While drug treatment seems promising for children and adolescents, they are at an increased risk of suicide while taking these medications and their well-being should be monitored closely.

Prognosis

Roughly one-third are treatment-resistant. These people continue to have panic attacks and various other panic disorder symptoms after receiving treatment.

Many people being treated for panic attacks begin to experience limited symptom attacks. These panic attacks are less comprehensive, with fewer than four bodily symptoms being experienced.

It is not unusual to experience only one or two symptoms at a time, such as vibrations in their legs, shortness of breath, or an intense wave of heat traveling up their bodies, which is not similar to hot flashes due to oestrogen shortage. Some symptoms, such as vibrations in the legs, are sufficiently different from any normal sensation that they indicate a panic disorder. Other symptoms on the list can occur in people who may or may not have panic disorder. Panic disorder does not require four or more symptoms to all be present at the same time. Causeless panic and racing heartbeat are sufficient to indicate a panic attack.

Epidemiology

In Europe, about 3% of the population has a panic attack in a given year while in the United States they affect about 11%. They are more common in females than in males. They often begin during puberty or early adulthood. Children and older people are less commonly affected. A meta-analysis was conducted on data collected about twin studies and family studies on the link between genes and panic disorder. The researchers also examined the possibility of a link to phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and generalised anxiety disorder. The researchers used a database called MEDLINE to accumulate their data. The results concluded that the aforementioned disorders have a genetic component and are inherited or passed down through genes. For the non-phobias, the likelihood of inheriting is 30-40%, and for the phobias, it was 50-60%.

Book: Panic Free – The 10-Day Program to End Panic, Anxiety, and Claustrophobia

Book Title:

Panic Free – The 10-Day Program to End Panic, Anxiety, and Claustrophobia.

Author(s): Tom Bunn.

Year: 2019.

Edition: First (1ed).

Publisher: New World Library.

Type(s): Audiobook and Kindle.

Synopsis:

What if you could stop panic by tapping into a different part of your brain?

After years of working to help sufferers of panic and anxiety, licensed therapist (and pilot) Tom Bunn discovered a highly effective solution that utilises a part of the brain not affected by the stress hormones that bombard a person experiencing panic.

This “unconscious procedural memory” can be programmed to control panic by preventing the release of stress hormones and activating the parasympathetic nervous system.

This process, outlined in Panic Free, sounds complicated but is not, requiring just ten days and no drugs or doctors.

Bunn includes specific instructions for dealing with common panic triggers, such as airplane travel, bridges, MRIs, and tunnels.

Because panic is profoundly life-limiting, the programme Bunn offers can be a real life-changer.

Book: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Book Title:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Comprehensive Guide to Using CBT to Overcome Depression, Anxiety, Intrusive Thoughts, and Rewiring Your Brain to Regain Control Over Your Emotions and Life.

Author(s): Stuart Watson.

Year: 2020 (Hardcover) and 2019 (Kindle).

Edition: One.

Publisher: Ationa Publications.

Type(s): Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle and Audiobook.

Synopsis:

If you’re looking for an effective method to treat anxiety, depression, phobias and more, then keep reading…

Cognitive-behavioural therapy, otherwise known as “CBT,” is an incredibly well-known therapy method within the field of psychology. Yet, unless you work within this field you likely know very little about CBT, how it works, and why it is one of the best therapy methods around.

In this book you will learn about the amazing affects this therapy has been proven to have. You can learn how to use CBT from within your own home, helping to treat anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and more. No longer do you have to suffer in silence, simply existing through life. You can learn to heal and begin to actually live a full life again.

Whether you have been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or simply are struggling throughout your daily life without a diagnosis, CBT can help. While it is always best to go to a professional and receive a diagnosis of your condition, you can also use the tools of CBT independently at home, with or without an official diagnosis.

You can learn to better understand your mind, overcome intrusive thoughts, cope with daily stress, and transform your negative thought patterns into something more positive. CBT is truly transformative, and with a little daily effort, you could possibly change your entire life for the better.

The following are some of the critical things explored in the book:

  • The Basic Premise of CBT and how it Can Benefit You in Daily Life.
  • The Fascinating History of CBT.
  • 16 Common Mistakes and Myths about CBT.
  • An In-Depth Look into What CBT Can Treat and Why it Works.
  • The Key Principles of CBT.
  • Overcoming Anxiety and Depression Step-By-Step.
  • 3 Alternative CBT Approaches.
  • Discover 7 Inspiring Tales of CBT Success.
  • And so much more.