Panic Attacks: Other Perspectives

Sandy Rovner's excellent article on the anxiety disorders {Cover, May 22} brings hope to the many patients who suffer from them. The new treatments she describes allow patients who are immobilized by their symptoms to function again. While a very high percentage of patients are helped by these treatments, they are not cured. In many cases, the missing factor is psychotherapy, once the symptoms have been brought under control. Only psychotherapy gets at the underlying problems that cause these conditions to recur. In my experience, psychotherapy completes the cure. Ralph Wittenberg, MD Medical director Counseling Center of Northern Virginia Burke

I feel that irregular heartbeat as a cause for anxiety disorder was not stressed enough. When one's heart skips a beat or two, the sensation can be very frightening. This feeling seems to increase the frequency of irregular heartbeats, in turn causing panic -- and fear of more panic.

I suffered for years from panic attacks and was treated with various tranquilizers; then a cardiologist discovered my irregular heartbeat. After proper medication, my panic attacks stopped. Dorothy Maslin Charlotte Hall, Md.

As a panic disorder sufferer who became addicted to prescribed amounts of Xanax following doctor's orders, I was dismayed to see statements such as: "Some therapists say that many {anxiety sufferers} are addicted to drugs and alcohol, which anxious people use to medicate themselves and then become addicted." This is followed by: "Many people with panic attacks are prescribed Xanax . . ."

Xanax is a troubling, addictive drug with severe, prolonged withdrawal symptoms. Unfortunately, it is prescribed repeatedly to addiction-prone anxiety sufferers. It is high time the Food and Drug Administration and the medical community became informed enough to prevent this ridiculous paradox. Robin R. Gaiser Herndon

As someone who has been in treatment for agoraphobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder for 2 1/2 years, I found your informative article on anxiety did not seem to convey the anguish and despair felt by people with one of these disorders. For that reason, I'd like to share an excerpt from my diary, written two years ago:

"I have been homebound for seven months. I have withdrawn from the world and am trying to return. I'm mad, I'm sad, I'm angry, I'm tired, I'm confused. I'm crying, I'm desperate. I'm sorry for hurting my family. I'm anxious, I'm trembling. I hate agoraphobia; I want it to end -- please go away. I feel ugly, I feel empty. I want to be happy again -- if even just for a moment."

I have returned to the world and, ironically, I feel that my life has been enriched by this dreadful disorder. A day at work, talking with a neighbor, walking my dog, even going to the grocery store -- all have new meaning for me. Brigit Barr-Rauscher Stevensville, Md.

Memory Loss Needs More Research

Dr. Nathan Billig {Second Opinion, May 15} is correct that "serious memory impairment is never part of normal aging and must be evaluated." Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia should be considered when anyone exhibits signs of serious memory impairment.

The National Institute on Aging estimates that 4 million Americans have Alzheimer's. Given these statistics, as well as the rapid growth of the aged population, Alzheimer's will continue to be a major health concern well into the next century.

For people with Alzheimer's and their families, the struggle with the disease is long and often frustrating. Intense research efforts will, it is hoped, yield a better understanding of both the normal and the diseased brain that will in turn shape our response to Alzheimer's.T. Franklin Williams, MD Director National Institute on Aging

Note: The NIA has recently established a national clearinghouse on Alzheimer's disease. For more information, write to the Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center, P.O. Box 8250, Silver Spring, Md., 20907-8250 or call 301-495-3311.

Medical Treatment in Jail

Regarding Larry Thompson's story on the physician in jail who is in need of treatment for cancer {Issues, June 5}, Reginald Jenkins, MD, is responsible for the entire department's health services and his title is assistant director for health services for the D.C. Department of Corrections. Dr. Jenkins is responsible for the well-being of 9,700 inmates in the entire correctional system. The D.C. jail, where about 1,600 of these inmates are housed, is located at 19th and E sts. SE. Pat Wheeler Communications officer Government of the District of Columbia Department of Corrections

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