DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What is the difference between anxiety and panic attack? I am claustrophobic, and I need to fly from the West Coast to the East Coast and back. I can’t do so because of my problem. I have tried therapy several times, but it did not help. I do not want to go that route again. Can you give me some suggestions on how to be able to fly with this problem? Is there a medicine I could take before I get on the plane? — Anon.
ANSWER: Anxiety is excessive worry. In some cases, worry is appropriate. But with pathological anxiety, the worry is about things that don’t merit worry or about imagined things that truly merit no concern. Under “anxiety disorders” are many different conditions, each with a slightly different set of symptoms. They all share some things in common.
Panic attacks are the sudden onset of terror in places where such terror is inappropriate. The attack builds to a high point in a matter of 10 minutes or less. The attack can take place in a perfectly neutral situation, like shopping in the grocery store. During an attack, the heart beats fast, people become short of breath, and they often sweat and fear they are at death’s door.
Phobias are unreasonable fears of people, places and things that don’t engender fear in others. Claustrophobia is the fear of being in an enclosed space, like an airplane. Phobias can bring on a panic attack. Maybe your phobia is not so much a fear of enclosed space but a fear of flying.
I’m not certain these distinctions are of importance to you. The important thing for you is to uproot whatever it is that paralyzes you when you must board an airplane or to blunt it so you can function. Mental health professionals can get you over anxiety, panic attacks and phobias. I’m not positive what you mean by “going that route” again. Do you mean a detailed probing into your childhood and such matters? That isn’t usually necessary. The doctor might prescribe a medicine that calms you and that you take only when needed. You won’t become dependent on that medicine every day of your life. You use it only for the situation that throws you into such high anxiety.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My husband, 78 years old, fell off a ladder, and his head struck the sidewalk. I insisted he go to the emergency room, although he put up a fight.
In the ER, the examining doctor gave him a very complete examination. He ordered a CT scan of his brain. The doctor found nothing wrong, and the scan was said to be normal. They sent us home.
This week we got a report of the scan. It says my husband has brain atrophy. I had to look up the meaning of atrophy. My husband was never an Einstein, but what is the significance of brain atrophy? He carries on a reasonable conversation, and he reads the paper carefully. Need we be concerned? I’m upset. He isn’t. — W.Y.
ANSWER: At rophy means shrinkage. If everyone your husband’s age had a brain scan, most of their reports would say brain atrophy. It’s something that happens with age.
It doesn’t imply any serious trouble. It shouldn’t scare you or him.
Readers may write Dr. Donohue or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. ©2011 North America Synd.