International Study of Expert Judgement on Therapeutic Use of Benzodiazepines and Other Psychotherapeutic Medications: V. Treatment strategies in panic disorder, 1992-1997. Academic Article Case Study uri icon


  • The objective of this study was to assemble expert clinical experience and judgment regarding the treatment of panic disorder in a systematic, quantitative manner, particularly with respect to changes during the past 5 years. A panel of 73 internationally recognized experts in the field of pharmacotherapy of anxiety and depression was constituted by multistage peer nomination. Sixty-six experts completed a questionnaire in 1992, and 51 of those completed a follow-up questionnaire in 1997. This report focuses on the experts' responses to questions about therapeutic options as they relate to a vignette describing a typical case of panic disorder. The preferred initial treatment strategy in 1992 (59%) and in 1997 (55%) was a combination of medication with cognitive behavioral therapy. The vast majority of the expert panel included a medication in their recommendations--91% in 1992 and 90% in 1997. Experts recommending a medication for panic in 1992 chose as first-line treatment a benzodiazepine (35%), a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI, 7%), an older antidepressant (33%), or a combination of medications (25%), principally a benzodiazepine plus an older antidepressant (19%). In 1997, fewer chose a benzodiazepine (15%) or an older antidepressant (11%) alone, whereas 33% chose an SSRI alone. More experts chose a combination of medications in 1997 (39%), and the increase was attributable mainly to the choice of a benzodiazepine plus an SSRI (17%). Overall, there was only a small decline in recommendations for benzodiazepines, whereas the increased choice of SSRIs came largely at the expense of the older antidepressants. As second-line medications for panic should their first-line choice fail, the experts in 1997 recommended a benzodiazepine (7%), an SSRI (15%), an older antidepressant (28%), or a combination of medications (50%), most often a benzodiazepine plus an older antidepressant (21%) or a benzodiazepine plus an SSRI (17%). (Experts were not asked to recommend second-line treatment in 1992). Thus, in case of unsatisfactory response, the experts' choices shifted from benzodiazepines and SSRIs alone toward the older antidepressants alone or combinations of an antidepressant plus a benzodiazepine. This report concluded that combined cognitive behavioral therapy plus medication was highly favored by the experts as the initial treatment strategy for panic disorder. Over the past 5 years, SSRIs displaced older antidepressants as the experts' choice for first-line pharmacotherapy of panic disorder. In case of an unsatisfactory response, the experts more often recommended an older antidepressant or a combination of an antidepressant plus a benzodiazepine. According to the experts' judgments, the benzodiazepines, especially combined with an antidepressant, remain mainstays of pharmacotherapy for panic disorder.

publication date

  • December 1998