Doctors Who Treat Anxiety: Who To See & Why It's Important


Doctors Who Treat Anxiety

When faced with distressing symptoms like panic attacks or anxiety attacks, it's natural to worry about potential underlying conditions. Seeking doctors who treat anxiety is essential to find relief and understand the root cause of your distress. The thing is, while panic and anxiety disorders are common culprits, there are other medical conditions that can manifest with similar symptoms.

In my previous post, I talked about what it feels like to have a panic attack. Today I’ll share my personal experience with anxiety and panic attacks, and name all the doctors I’ve visited before settling on a diagnosis of anxiety and panic disorder.

Before I start, let me remind you that I’m not a doctor, and I do not give medical advice here. What I do in this blog (and in this blog post, in particular) is share my own experience and steps I take to reduce anxiety and panic attacks.

If you have concerns about anxiety or panic attacks, it's essential to seek professional help from a healthcare provider or mental health professional for a comprehensive evaluation and appropriate management.

What is a panic attack?

When I experienced my first panic attack, I didn’t want to believe it was a psychological condition. I didn’t want to admit that it was exactly what it was.

But what is a panic attack, after all? Let me put it this way:

Panic attack is an intense and sudden episode of extreme anxiety and fear that can peak within minutes. The attacks can be distressing and overwhelming.

During my research on the topic, I found out that the diagnosis of a panic attack is known as a diagnosis of exclusion. So I’ve decided to exclude any other conditions that resemble panic or anxiety disorders. To do that, I googled panic attack symptoms first.

It turned out that the symptoms experienced during a panic attack may vary from person to person, yet some common symptoms include:

  • Rapid Heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or Shaking
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Chest Pain or Discomfort
  • Feeling of Choking
  • Nausea or Upset Stomach
  • Dizziness or Lightheadedness
  • Chills or Hot Flashes
  • Numbness or Tingling Sensations
  • Fear of Losing Control
  • Fear of Dying
  • Feeling Detached or Unreal (derealization and depersonalization)

I’ve marked the symptoms I experienced (and still experience from time to time) in bold. And based my list of doctors to visit accordingly.

If you have different symptoms, you may want to include other doctors on the list. To do that, consult your primary care physician first.

Doctors Who Treat Anxiety

Here is the list of doctors I personally consulted after I had my panic attacks. I’ve also included my symptoms where applicable and the prescriptions made.

1. Primary Care Physician (PCP)

My journey to finding the right diagnosis began with a visit to a primary care physician (PCP). PCPs are trained to handle a broad range of medical issues and can conduct a thorough examination to assess the symptoms. They review a patient's medical history, discuss the symptoms, and perform a physical examination to exclude any underlying medical conditions that could be contributing to distress.

When I visited my physician, he measured my blood pressure, took some blood tests and urinalysis. When results came, it turned out I was totally fine. Yet he recommended visiting some specialists to exclude specific conditions not covered by the tests he took.

2. Cardiologist

Cardiologist was the second doctor I visited. The thing is, heart palpitations (which I experienced at that time), chest pain, and shortness of breath can be alarming symptoms often associated with panic attacks. But they can also signify heart-related issues. Consulting a cardiologist can help rule out any heart conditions or irregularities that may be responsible for such symptoms.

The doctor conducted an electrocardiogram (ECG) test, and the results were also fine. Given I’d never had heart issues before, I moved on to the next doctor on the list.


3. Pulmonologist

Sometimes, panic attacks can feel similar to asthma attacks or other respiratory issues, leading to confusion between the two. A pulmonologist specializes in respiratory disorders and can help determine if the symptoms are due to asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or other respiratory conditions.

It was not my case either.

4. Endocrinologist

The endocrine system plays a crucial role in regulating hormones that can influence mood and anxiety. Conditions like hyperthyroidism or adrenal gland disorders can manifest with anxiety-like symptoms. So, I thought maybe that was my case.

During my visit, the doctor ran some tests which helped exclude those conditions. It turned out though, that my iodine levels were quite low. And so I got my first prescription, which was iodine. I’d say, it started to feel a little bit better in general. But my anxiety symptoms continued, and I still had panic attacks occasionally.

5. Neurologist

Neurological conditions can also present with symptoms that mimic panic and anxiety disorders. Seizures, migraines, and certain brain tumors can lead to anxiety-like sensations or panic attacks.

My neurologist conducted some tests for balance and reaction, which were normal in general, yet she prescribed me some benzodiazepines to take for a month (which I talk about in this post). She also recommended an MRI scan to help diagnose possible cervical spine, head and brain conditions, as well as visiting an ophthalmologist.

Now, the MRI scan was like torture to me. The procedure was painless, yet it caused a severe anxiety in me. The very idea that I needed to lay still and alone for about an hour was shocking. And besides, the noises the MRI machine made were pretty disturbing. So, I’ve decided to make a spine scan first, and wait with a brain scan a bit.

So, the MRI showed no issues with my cervical spine. And when I read the results, I burst into tears. I was hoping to find a physical issue and take some pills to fix it. But the more tests I took, the more I understood it was a psychological problem.

6. Neurosurgeon

A few months passed, and I finally made it to my second MRI scan to check if my brain blood vessels function normally. The scan showed that as well as insufficient oxygen supply in some areas. Now, as a rule, the consultation of a neurosurgeon follows the scan. But, in my case, a visit to a neurologist was recommended.

Well, maybe if things don't get better, I will book an appointment with a neurosurgeon. But as for now, I don’t plan to.

7. Ophthalmologist

The vestibular system, responsible for balance and spatial orientation, is closely related to eye movements. Disorders of the vestibular system can lead to dizziness, vertigo, and a sense of imbalance, which may be mistaken for anxiety or panic attacks.

So my neurologist recommended that I visit an ophthalmologist to check the eye pressure with a test called tonometry. Tonometry measures the pressure inside of your eye by flattening your cornea (the clear part at the front of your eye). The more force that's needed to flatten your cornea, the higher your eye pressure is.

My test went fine. So, I prepared to visit the last doctor on the list.

8. Otorhinolaryngologist (ENT)

Just like an ophthalmologist, an ENT specialist can conduct specific tests to assess the function of the vestibular system and help in diagnosing or ruling out vestibular disorders. Now, my go-to symptoms were (and still are) dizziness and a sense of imbalance. And I wanted to exclude vestibular system issues. The doctor checked my ears, and also asked to describe the exact sensations I felt during the attacks. It turned out, what I thought to be a sign of a fainting coming had nothing to do with the sensations people with vertigo and similar diseases experience.

During a panic attack, I usually feel that I’m going to faint. As if there’s a turn off switch in my head. And it also feels like falling, as if my feet and the whole body become weak. But my hearing is fine (though it’s typical for people with vertigo, let’s say, to go deaf on one ear during the seizure), and the space I’m in doesn’t spin (which is also typical for vestibular system diseases).

This was the last doctor that excluded the conditions other than that of a psychological nature.

Anxiety and panic disorder diagnosis: what’s next?

My experience showed that a precise diagnosis not only was the first step toward a tailored treatment plan, but also was the first step to lower anxiety levels caused by uncertainty. Now that I had proof, I focused on my anxiety and panic disorder treatment.

The next step was to take blood tests for minerals and vitamins deficiencies. In this post I share all the details.

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