Menopause panic attacks are a very real experience. But they are treatable. Read on to find out what causes them and what options are available to ease your symptoms.
During this chapter of life, you go through some major hormonal shifts.
It’s also a time when there may be significant changes in your personal and professional life.
So there are plenty of reasons for anxiety disorders like panic attacks to rear their heads.
Here, we’ll give you the lowdown on panic attacks, menopause, and the links between the two.
Before we start, know that help is available.
There are proven methods to make panic attacks less frequent and easier to get through.
We’ll be looking at those too.
In this article: 📝
- What are panic attacks?
- What is menopause?
- Can going through menopause cause panic attacks?
- How can I stop panic attacks during menopause?
What are panic attacks?
A panic attack is a sudden onset of debilitating feelings of fear and anxiety.
It can include physical symptoms like a racing heart, sweating, trembling, difficulty breathing, and chest pain.
Some people also experience gastrointestinal problems like stomach pains and nausea.
Every year, 11% of Americans experience a panic attack.
If you are having a panic attack, try not to fight the experience.
Stay where you are.
Breathe slowly and deeply.
It will pass.
People who experience frequent panic attacks may have what’s known as a panic disorder.
Panic and anxiety disorders can be scary, but treatment is available.
Medication, therapy, and some changes to your daily routine can all help.
If you’re struggling with your mental health, you don’t have to do it alone.
Talk to your healthcare provider,
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also offers this resource to help you find services in your area.
And if that feels like too much right now, reach out to a loved one.
What is menopause?
Officially, you hit menopause twelve months after your last period.
The average age to hit menopause in the U.S. is 51.
But while menopause refers to a distinct point on your timeline, it’s better understood as a chapter of transition where your body makes all sorts of interesting adjustments.
The time leading up to menopause is called perimenopause (meaning “around menopause”).
During this time, you’ll go through some hormonal shifts that can affect your physical and mental health.
Your levels of one of the key sex hormones, estrogen, will be very low after menopause.
But the decline is more of a rollercoaster than a gentle downward curve.
Common symptoms to experience as your estrogen levels rise and fall include irregular periods, sleep disturbances, and so-called “vasomotor symptoms” like hot flashes and night sweats.
Can going through menopause cause panic attacks?
Menopause and anxiety and panic attacks can all go together.
We know that women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder as men.
And panic attacks are 2.5 times more common in women.
What’s more, panic attacks can become more prevalent as we age.
For women going through menopause, there are several factors at play.
First, even without menopause symptoms in the mix, your late 40s and 50s can be a time of big changes in your career and family life.
You might have a lot of responsibility at work, an empty nest, aging family members to take care of, or health scares to cope with.
All this to say, there might be more demands on your time and emotional energy than ever before.
Second, adjusting the physical changes that happen around menopause can also take a toll on your mental health.
Fertility challenges and a fear of getting older can affect your sense of self and, therefore, your anxiety levels.
Third, changes in your hormones can contribute to anxiety disorders.
This study explored how important estrogen is for neurobiological systems, which suggests that fluctuating levels may cause anxiety.
And a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation can make everything worse.
Unfortunately, sleep and menopause are not always happy bedfellows.
The sleep disturbances that accompany menopause can also put you at risk for panic attacks.
So there are all sorts of reasons why panic attacks might be more common at this time.
It’s important to speak to your healthcare provider about your unique experience.
Research suggests a link between panic attacks during menopause and heart attacks and strokes.
Navigating your symptoms alongside your doctor can help to minimize this risk and make your day-to-day life easier and more enjoyable.
How can I stop panic attacks during menopause?
Luckily, there are several tried-and-tested interventions that can help you manage panic attacks during menopause.
We’ll take you through the various options on the table.
Medication can help reduce the symptoms and lower the risks of future menopause panic attacks.
The FDA has approved a few different medication types for the treatment of panic disorders.
Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
SSRIs make more serotonin available in your brain.
Serotonin is a chemical messenger which helps to control your mood.
That’s why SSRIs are often used to treat depression and anxiety.
FDA-approved SSRIs for panic disorders include Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil, and Pexeva.
Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)
Like SSRIs, SNRIs change the balance of chemicals in your brain.
But rather than focusing exclusively on serotonin, they also work on norepinephrine, a chemical messenger that plays an important role in our “fight or flight” response.
There’s only one FDA-approved SNRI for panic disorders: extended-release venlafaxine.
This type of medication is used to treat anxiety attacks and works on the central nervous system.
They’re generally not considered suitable for long-term management of an anxiety condition because of their side effects, but they can be helpful in acute cases.
The two FDA approved benzodiazepines are Klonopin and Xanax.
Talk therapy, such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), has proven effective in the treatment of anxiety disorders.
It can help you understand what triggers your panic attacks and give you techniques to manage them if they happen.
Recent research has also shown that CBT can be useful in the treatment of other menopause symptoms, like sleep problems and hot flashes.
Talk therapy can be used on its own or alongside medication.
Various breathing techniques can help to stave off panic attacks or help you to get through them when they happen.
Deep breathing (also called belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing) can calm your nervous system and help with both physical and emotional symptoms.
Check out this How To video from the University of Michigan.
We know this can be easier said than done, particularly if you’re experiencing a host of other menopause-related symptoms.
(Night sweats + sleep = a not-so-fun mix).
But there are some things you can do to help you get a good night’s rest.
- Following a regular sleep schedule that includes a relaxing bedtime routine (music, a warm bath, reading — you know what does it for you.)
- Going to sleep in a dark, cool room.
- Minimizing screen time before bed.
- Getting regular exercise a few hours before bedtime.
- Avoiding or limiting foods or drinks that can get in the way of sleep, like caffeine, alcohol, or spicy food.
- Trying calming practices, like deep breathing, meditation, and yoga.
If you put all of these strategies in place and you’re still struggling, chat with your doctor about your options for medication to help you sleep.
Coping with the symptoms of menopause and the big shifts that occur at this time in your life can be incredibly challenging.
Check in with our Peanut menopause community.
We’re having the conversation, so you don’t have to go it alone.