A Berkshire mother of three says that being involved in a research study helped her manage lifelong panic attacks.
Tracy McQualter has had panic attacks since childhood, and it worsened as she got older. “It could happen anywhere. I felt like I couldn’t escape from it. It could be normal, like meetings at work, taking a train, or even going to the hairdressers.”
“If I feel like I’m in a situation that I can’t get out of easily, I will deteriorate, and it will escalate to the point where I feel like I am about to die, and that sounds very irrational, but it is really severe.
“It’s like your worst fears combined. You have very physical symptoms, rapid heart rate, nausea, heart palpitations, and feelings of doom. You can’t escape it.”
Tracy volunteered for a study by Oxford University, supported by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) and MQ Mental Health Research, aimed at finding alternative treatments for anxiety.
As part of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Losartan study, participants received one session of CBT, which involved breaking down confusing thoughts into manageable parts and finding practical ways to deal with them.
To improve this learning, half of the participants received a single dose of losartan, a drug used to treat high blood pressure, and the other half received a placebo. Research has shown that losartan may enhance emotional information processing, possibly by stimulating a brain mechanism involved in making new connections and retaining information.
Tracy, who took her husband James, one of her safety mechanisms, said, “We discovered my thought patterns and behaviors that were preserved in my panic attacks for me. We went through thought processes and behaviors to find out what happened when I had a panic attack and what made it more likely.”
“Since studying, I’ve continued to do things I either wouldn’t do before or would have avoided, and he’s getting a lot better.
“I haven’t had a panic attack since then. I’ve done something to my brain. It’s almost like clicking something. It’s a huge quality-of-life change. Now, I can go to farther places on my own on trains or by car that I wouldn’t have done before, like day trips.” with my children.
The lead investigator for the trials, Dr. Andrea Reinicki, said: “CBT is the most effective treatment for anxiety, but the coursework is long and expensive. Only about half of the lasting benefits are shown. There is an enormous need to develop more effective treatment approaches.
“While patients do not tend to notice a difference in their anxiety until after a few days, I can often tell when I see them the next day how it has worked for them. People often look lighter or are flushed; I could see this with Tracy also.
“We know that the brain of a person experiencing panic attacks works differently. The amygdala, which detects threats, is much more sensitive. Within 24 hours after a single treatment session, this situation is completely back to normal in patients who will feel better over the next few weeks. “.
The study recruited more than 30 people across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes and Oxfordshire and aims to enroll more.
Adults experiencing panic attacks, including very strong physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness or nausea, and strong fears of having a heart attack, fainting, choking or insanity, may be eligible to participate.
For more information and to register, call Dr. Andrea Rinke on 01865 618320 or [email protected]