1 Guidance

The following guidance is based on the best available evidence. The full guideline gives details of the methods and the evidence used to develop the guidance.

People have the right to be involved in discussions and make informed decisions about their care, as described in your care.

Making decisions using NICE guidelines explains how we use words to show the strength (or certainty) of our recommendations, and has information about prescribing medicines (including off‑label use), professional guidelines, standards and laws (including on consent and mental capacity), and safeguarding.

1.1 Principles of care for people with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)

Information and support for people with GAD, their families and carers

1.1.1 When working with people with GAD:

  • build a relationship and work in an open, engaging and non-judgemental manner

  • explore the person's worries in order to jointly understand the impact of GAD

  • explore treatment options collaboratively with the person, indicating that decision making is a shared process

  • ensure that discussion takes place in settings in which confidentiality, privacy and dignity are respected. [new 2011]

1.1.2 When working with people with GAD:

  • provide information appropriate to the person's level of understanding about the nature of GAD and the range of treatments available

  • if possible, ensure that comprehensive written information is available in the person's preferred language and in audio format

  • offer independent interpreters if needed. [new 2011]

1.1.3 When families and carers are involved in supporting a person with GAD, consider:

  • offering a carer's assessment of their caring, physical and mental health needs

  • providing information, including contact details, about family and carer support groups and voluntary organisations, and helping families or carers to access these

  • negotiating between the person with GAD and their family or carers about confidentiality and the sharing of information

  • providing written and verbal information on GAD and its management, including how families and carers can support the person

  • providing contact numbers and information about what to do and who to contact in a crisis. [new 2011]

1.1.4 Inform people with GAD about local and national self-help organisations and support groups, in particular where they can talk to others with similar experiences. [new 2011]

1.1.5 For people with GAD who have a mild learning disability or mild acquired cognitive impairment, offer the same interventions as for other people with GAD, adjusting the method of delivery or duration of the intervention if necessary to take account of the disability or impairment. [new 2011]

1.1.6 When assessing or offering an intervention to people with GAD and a moderate to severe learning disability or moderate to severe acquired cognitive impairment, consider consulting with a relevant specialist. [new 2011]

1.2 Stepped care for people with GAD

A stepped-care model (shown below) is used to organise the provision of services and to help people with GAD, their families, carers and practitioners to choose the most effective interventions.

1.2.1 Follow the stepped-care model, offering the least intrusive, most effective intervention first. [new 2011]

The stepped-care model

Focus of the intervention

Nature of the intervention

STEP 4: Complex treatment-refractory GAD and very marked functional impairment, such as self-neglect or a high risk of self-harm

Highly specialist treatment, such as complex drug and/or psychological treatment regimens; input from
multi-agency teams, crisis services, day hospitals or inpatient care

STEP 3: GAD with an inadequate response to step 2 interventions or marked functional impairment

Choice of a high-intensity psychological intervention (CBT/applied relaxation) or a drug treatment

STEP 2: Diagnosed GAD that has not improved after education and active monitoring in primary care

Low-intensity psychological interventions: individual non-facilitated self-help*, individual guided self-help and psychoeducational groups

STEP 1: All known and suspected presentations of GAD

Identification and assessment; education about GAD and treatment options; active monitoring

* A self-administered intervention intended to treat GAD involving written or electronic self-help materials (usually a book or workbook). It is similar to individual guided self-help but usually with minimal therapist contact, for example an occasional short telephone call of no more than 5 minutes.

Step 1: All known and suspected presentations of GAD


1.2.2 Identify and communicate the diagnosis of GAD as early as possible to help people understand the disorder and start effective treatment promptly. [new 2011]

1.2.3 Consider the diagnosis of GAD in people presenting with anxiety or significant worry, and in people who attend primary care frequently who:

  • have a chronic physical health problem or

  • do not have a physical health problem but are seeking reassurance about somatic symptoms (particularly older people and people from minority ethnic groups) or

  • are repeatedly worrying about a wide range of different issues. [new 2011]

1.2.4 When a person with known or suspected GAD attends primary care seeking reassurance about a chronic physical health problem or somatic symptoms and/or repeated worrying, consider with the person whether some of their symptoms may be due to GAD. [new 2011]

Assessment and education

1.2.5 For people who may have GAD, conduct a comprehensive assessment that does not rely solely on the number, severity and duration of symptoms, but also considers the degree of distress and functional impairment. [new 2011]

1.2.6 As part of the comprehensive assessment, consider how the following factors might have affected the development, course and severity of the person's GAD:

  • any comorbid depressive disorder or other anxiety disorder

  • any comorbid substance misuse

  • any comorbid medical condition

  • a history of mental health disorders

  • past experience of, and response to, treatments. [new 2011]

1.2.7 For people with GAD and a comorbid depressive or other anxiety disorder, treat the primary disorder first (that is, the one that is more severe and in which it is more likely that treatment will improve overall functioning)[4],[5]. [new 2011]

1.2.8 For people with GAD who misuse substances, be aware that:

  • substance misuse can be a complication of GAD

  • non-harmful substance use should not be a contraindication to the treatment of GAD

  • harmful and dependent substance misuse should be treated first as this may lead to significant improvement in the symptoms of GAD[6],[7]. [new 2011]

1.2.9 Following assessment and diagnosis of GAD:

  • provide education about the nature of GAD and the options for treatment, including NICE's Information for the public

  • monitor the person's symptoms and functioning (known as active monitoring).

    This is because education and active monitoring may improve less severe presentations and avoid the need for further interventions. [new 2011]

1.2.10 Discuss the use of over-the-counter medications and preparations with people with GAD. Explain the potential for interactions with other prescribed and over-the-counter medications and the lack of evidence to support their safe use. [new 2011]

Step 2: Diagnosed GAD that has not improved after step 1 interventions

Low-intensity psychological interventions for GAD

1.2.11 For people with GAD whose symptoms have not improved after education and active monitoring in step 1, offer one or more of the following as a first-line intervention, guided by the person's preference:

  • individual non-facilitated self-help

  • individual guided self-help

  • psychoeducational groups. [new 2011]

1.2.12 Individual non-facilitated self-help for people with GAD should:

  • include written or electronic materials of a suitable reading age (or alternative media)

  • be based on the treatment principles of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

  • include instructions for the person to work systematically through the materials over a period of at least 6 weeks

  • usually involve minimal therapist contact, for example an occasional short telephone call of no more than 5 minutes. [new 2011]

1.2.13 Individual guided self-help for people with GAD should:

  • be based on the treatment principles of CBT

  • include written or electronic materials of a suitable reading age (or alternative media)

  • be supported by a trained practitioner, who facilitates the self-help programme and reviews progress and outcome

  • usually consist of five to seven weekly or fortnightly face-to-face or telephone sessions, each lasting 20–30 minutes. [new 2011, amended 2018]

1.2.14 Psychoeducational groups for people with GAD should:

  • be based on CBT principles, have an interactive design and encourage observational learning

  • include presentations and self-help manuals

  • be conducted by trained practitioners

  • have a ratio of one therapist to about 12 participants

  • usually consist of six weekly sessions, each lasting 2 hours. [new 2011]

1.2.15 Practitioners providing guided self-help and/or psychoeducational groups should:

  • receive regular high-quality supervision

  • use routine outcome measures and ensure that the person with GAD is involved in reviewing the efficacy of the treatment. [new 2011]

Step 3: GAD with marked functional impairment or that has not improved after step 2 interventions

Treatment options

1.2.16 For people with GAD and marked functional impairment, or those whose symptoms have not responded adequately to step 2 interventions:

  • Offer either

    • an individual high-intensity psychological intervention (see 1.2.17–1.2.21) or

    • drug treatment (see 1.2.22–1.2.32).

  • Provide verbal and written information on the likely benefits and disadvantages of each mode of treatment, including the tendency of drug treatments to be associated with side effects and withdrawal syndromes.

  • Base the choice of treatment on the person's preference as there is no evidence that either mode of treatment (individual high-intensity psychological intervention or drug treatment) is better. [new 2011]

High-intensity psychological interventions

1.2.17 If a person with GAD chooses a high-intensity psychological intervention, offer either CBT or applied relaxation. [new 2011]

1.2.18 CBT for people with GAD should:

  • be based on the treatment manuals used in the clinical trials of CBT for GAD

  • be delivered by trained and competent practitioners

  • usually consist of 12–15 weekly sessions (fewer if the person recovers sooner; more if clinically required), each lasting 1 hour. [new 2011]

1.2.19 Applied relaxation for people with GAD should:

  • be based on the treatment manuals used in the clinical trials of applied relaxation for GAD

  • be delivered by trained and competent practitioners

  • usually consist of 12–15 weekly sessions (fewer if the person recovers sooner; more if clinically required), each lasting 1 hour. [new 2011]

1.2.20 Practitioners providing high-intensity psychological interventions for GAD should:

  • have regular supervision to monitor fidelity to the treatment model, using audio or video recording of treatment sessions if possible and if the person consents

  • use routine outcome measures and ensure that the person with GAD is involved in reviewing the efficacy of the treatment. [new 2011]

1.2.21 Consider providing all interventions in the preferred language of the person with GAD if possible. [new 2011]

Drug treatment

1.2.22 If a person with GAD chooses drug treatment, offer a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Consider offering sertraline first because it is the most cost-effective drug, but note that at the time of publication (January 2011) sertraline did not have UK marketing authorisation for this indication. Informed consent should be obtained and documented. Monitor the person carefully for adverse reactions. [new 2011]

1.2.23 If sertraline is ineffective, offer an alternative SSRI or a serotonin–noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor (SNRI), taking into account the following factors:

  • tendency to produce a withdrawal syndrome (especially with paroxetine and venlafaxine)

  • the side-effect profile and the potential for drug interactions

  • the risk of suicide and likelihood of toxicity in overdose (especially with venlafaxine)

  • the person's prior experience of treatment with individual drugs (particularly adherence, effectiveness, side effects, experience of withdrawal syndrome and the person's preference). [new 2011]

1.2.24 If the person cannot tolerate SSRIs or SNRIs, consider offering pregabalin[8]. [new 2011]

1.2.25 Do not offer a benzodiazepine for the treatment of GAD in primary or secondary care except as a short-term measure during crises. Follow the advice in the 'British national formulary' on the use of a benzodiazepine in this context. [new 2011]

1.2.26 Do not offer an antipsychotic for the treatment of GAD in primary care. (See also the latest evidence in the NICE evidence summary on generalised anxiety disorder: quetiapine.) [new 2011, amended 2018]

1.2.27 Before prescribing any medication, discuss the treatment options and any concerns the person with GAD has about taking medication. Explain fully the reasons for prescribing and provide written and verbal information on:

  • the likely benefits of different treatments

  • the different propensities of each drug for side effects, withdrawal syndromes and drug interactions

  • the risk of activation with SSRIs and SNRIs, with symptoms such as increased anxiety, agitation and problems sleeping

  • the gradual development, over 1 week or more, of the full anxiolytic effect

  • the importance of taking medication as prescribed and the need to continue treatment after remission to avoid relapse. [new 2011]

1.2.28 Take into account the increased risk of bleeding associated with SSRIs, particularly for older people or people taking other drugs that can damage the gastrointestinal mucosa or interfere with clotting (for example, NSAIDS or aspirin). Consider prescribing a gastroprotective drug in these circumstances. [new 2011]

1.2.29 For people aged under 30 who are offered an SSRI or SNRI:

  • warn them that these drugs are associated with an increased risk of suicidal thinking and self-harm in a minority of people under 30 and

  • see them within 1 week of first prescribing and

  • monitor the risk of suicidal thinking and self-harm weekly for the first month. [new 2011]

1.2.30 For people who develop side effects soon after starting drug treatment, provide information and consider one of the following strategies:

  • monitoring the person's symptoms closely (if the side effects are mild and acceptable to the person) or

  • reducing the dose of the drug or

  • stopping the drug and, according to the person's preference, offering either

    • an alternative drug (see 1.2.23–1.2.24) or

    • a high-intensity psychological intervention (see 1.2.17–1.2.21). [new 2011]

1.2.31 Review the effectiveness and side effects of the drug every 2–4 weeks during the first 3 months of treatment and every 3 months thereafter. [new 2011]

1.2.32 If the drug is effective, advise the person to continue taking it for at least a year as the likelihood of relapse is high. [new 2011]

Inadequate response to step 3 interventions

1.2.33 If a person's GAD has not responded to a full course of a high-intensity psychological intervention, offer a drug treatment (see 1.2.22–1.2.32). [new 2011]

1.2.34 If a person's GAD has not responded to drug treatment, offer either a high-intensity psychological intervention (see 1.2.17–1.2.21) or an alternative drug treatment (see 1.2.23–1.2.24). [new 2011]

1.2.35 If a person's GAD has partially responded to drug treatment, consider offering a high-intensity psychological intervention in addition to drug treatment. [new 2011]

1.2.36 Consider referral to step 4 if the person with GAD has severe anxiety with marked functional impairment in conjunction with:

  • a risk of self-harm or suicide or

  • significant comorbidity, such as substance misuse, personality disorder or complex physical health problems or

  • self-neglect or

  • an inadequate response to step 3 interventions. [new 2011]

Step 4: Complex, treatment-refractory GAD and very marked functional impairment or high risk of self-harm[9]


1.2.37 Offer the person with GAD a specialist assessment of needs and risks, including:

  • duration and severity of symptoms, functional impairment, comorbidities, risk to self and self-neglect

  • a formal review of current and past treatments, including adherence to previously prescribed drug treatments and the fidelity of prior psychological interventions, and their impact on symptoms and functional impairment

  • home environment

  • support in the community

  • relationships with and impact on families and carers. [new 2011]

1.2.38 Review the needs of families and carers and offer an assessment of their caring, physical and mental health needs if one has not been offered previously. [new 2011]

1.2.39 Develop a comprehensive care plan in collaboration with the person with GAD that addresses needs, risks and functional impairment and has a clear treatment plan. [new 2011]


1.2.40 Inform people with GAD who have not been offered or have refused the interventions in steps 1–3 about the potential benefits of these interventions, and offer them any they have not tried. [new 2011]

1.2.41 Consider offering combinations of psychological and drug treatments, combinations of antidepressants or augmentation of antidepressants with other drugs, but exercise caution and be aware that:

  • evidence for the effectiveness of combination treatments is lacking and

  • side effects and interactions are more likely when combining and augmenting antidepressants. [new 2011]

1.2.42 Combination treatments should be undertaken only by practitioners with expertise in the psychological and drug treatment of complex, treatment-refractory anxiety disorders and after full discussion with the person about the likely advantages and disadvantages of the treatments suggested. [new 2011]

1.2.43 When treating people with complex and treatment-refractory GAD, inform them of relevant clinical research in which they may wish to participate, working within local and national ethical guidelines at all times. [new 2011]

1.3 Principles of care for people with panic disorder

General management for panic disorder

People who have panic disorder and their families and carers need comprehensive information, presented in clear and understandable language, about the nature of their condition and the treatment options available. Such information is essential for shared decision-making between people with panic disorder and healthcare professionals, particularly when making choices between broadly equivalent treatments. In addition, given the emotional, social and economic costs panic disorder usually entails, people with panic disorder and their families and carers may need help in contacting support and self-help groups. Support groups can also promote understanding and collaboration between people who have panic disorder, their families and carers, and healthcare professionals at all levels of primary and secondary care.

Shared decision-making and information provision

1.3.1 Shared decision-making should take place as it improves concordance and clinical outcomes. [2004]

1.3.2 Shared decision-making between the individual and healthcare professionals should take place during the process of diagnosis and in all phases of care. [2004]

1.3.3 People with panic disorder and, when appropriate, families and carers should be provided with information on the nature, course and treatment of panic disorder, including information on the use and likely side-effect profile of medication. [2004]

1.3.4 To facilitate shared decision-making, evidence-based information about treatments should be available and discussion of the possible options should take place. [2004]

1.3.5 People's preference and the experience and outcome of previous treatment(s) should be considered in determining the choice of treatment. [2004]

1.3.6 Common concerns about taking medication, such as fears of addiction, should be addressed. [2004]

1.3.7 In addition to being provided with high-quality information, people with panic disorder and their families and carers should be informed of self-help groups and support groups and be encouraged to participate in such programmes where appropriate. [2004]


1.3.8 When talking to people with panic disorder and their families and carers, healthcare professionals should use everyday, jargon-free language. If technical terms are used they should be explained to the person. [2004]

1.3.9 Where appropriate, all services should provide written material in the language of the person, and appropriate interpreters should be sought for people whose preferred language is not English. [2004]

1.3.10 Where available, consideration should be given to providing psychotherapies in the person's own language if this is not English. [2004]

1.4 Stepped care for people with panic disorder

The guideline provides recommendations for care at different stages of the person's journey, represented as different steps:

  • Step 1 – recognition and diagnosis

  • Step 2 – treatment in primary care

  • Step 3 – review and consideration of alternative treatments

  • Step 4 – review and referral to specialist mental health services

  • Step 5 – care in specialist mental health services.

Step 1: Recognition and diagnosis of panic disorder

Consultation skills

1.4.1 All healthcare professionals involved in diagnosis and management should have a demonstrably high standard of consultation skills so that a structured approach can be taken to the diagnosis and subsequent management plan for panic disorder. The standards detailed in the video workbook Summative Assessment For General Practice Training: Assessment Of Consulting Skills – the MRCGP/Summative Assessment Single Route and required of the Membership of the Royal College of General Practitioners are a good example of standards for consulting skills. [2004]


The accurate diagnosis of panic disorder is central to the effective management of this condition. It is acknowledged that frequently there are other conditions present, such as depression, that can make the presentation and diagnosis confusing.

1.4.2 The diagnostic process should elicit necessary relevant information such as personal history, any self-medication, and cultural or other individual characteristics that may be important considerations in subsequent care. [2004]

1.4.3 There is insufficient evidence on which to recommend a well-validated, self-reporting screening instrument to use in the diagnostic process, and so consultation skills should be relied upon to elicit all necessary information. [2004]


1.4.4 The clinician should be alert to the common clinical situation of comorbidity, in particular, panic disorder with depression and panic disorder with substance misuse. [2004, amended 2011]

1.4.5 The main problem(s) to be treated should be identified through a process of discussion with the person. In determining the priorities of the comorbidities, the sequencing of the problems should be clarified. This can be helped by drawing up a timeline to identify when the various problems developed. By understanding when the symptoms developed, a better understanding of the relative priorities of the comorbidities can be achieved, and there is a better opportunity of developing an effective intervention that fits the needs of the individual. [2004]

Presentation in A&E with panic attacks

It is important to remember that a panic attack does not necessarily constitute a panic disorder and appropriate treatment of a panic attack may limit the development of panic disorder. For people who present with chest pain at A&E services, there appears to be a greater likelihood of the cause being panic disorder if coronary artery disease is not present or the person is female or relatively young. Two other variables, atypical chest pain and self-reported anxiety, may also be associated with panic disorder presentations, but there is insufficient evidence to establish a relationship.

1.4.6 If a person presents in A&E, or other settings, with a panic attack, they should:

  • be asked if they are already receiving treatment for panic disorder

  • undergo the minimum investigations necessary to exclude acute physical problems

  • not usually be admitted to a medical or psychiatric bed

  • be referred to primary care for subsequent care, even if assessment has been undertaken in A&E

  • be given appropriate written information about panic attacks and why they are being referred to primary care

  • be offered appropriate written information about sources of support, including local and national voluntary and self-help groups. [2004]

Panic disorder – steps 2–5

Step 2 for people with panic disorder: offer treatment in primary care

The recommended treatment options have an evidence base: psychological therapy, medication and self-help have all been shown to be effective. The choice of treatment will be a consequence of the assessment process and shared decision-making.

1.4.7 Refer to recommendations to in the NICE guideline on common mental health problems for guidance on identifying the correct treatment options. [2018]

1.4.8 The treatment option of choice should be available promptly. [2004]

1.4.9 There are positive advantages of services based in primary care (for example, lower rates of people who do not attend) and these services are often preferred by people. [2004]

1.4.10 For people with mild to moderate panic disorder, offer or refer for one of the following low-intensity interventions:

  • individual non-facilitated self-help

  • individual facilitated self-help.

    (This recommendation is taken from the NICE guideline on common mental health problems.)

1.4.11 Information about support groups, where they are available, should be offered. (Support groups may provide face-to-face meetings, telephone conference support groups [which can be based on CBT principles], or additional information on all aspects of anxiety disorders plus other sources of help.) [2004]

1.4.12 The benefits of exercise as part of good general health should be discussed with all people with panic disorder as appropriate. [2004]

Step 3 for people with panic disorder: review and offer alternative treatment if appropriate

1.4.13 For people with moderate to severe panic disorder (with or without agoraphobia), consider referral for:

  • CBT or

  • an antidepressant if the disorder is long-standing or the person has not benefitted from or has declined psychological intervention.

    (This recommendation is taken from the NICE guideline on common mental health problems.)

Psychological interventions

1.4.14 CBT should be used. [2004]

1.4.15 CBT should be delivered only by suitably trained and supervised people who can demonstrate that they adhere closely to empirically grounded treatment protocols. [2004]

1.4.16 CBT in the optimal range of duration (7–14 hours in total) should be offered. [2004]

1.4.17 For most people, CBT should take the form of weekly sessions of 1–2 hours and should be completed within a maximum of 4 months of commencement. [2004]

1.4.18 Briefer CBT should be supplemented with appropriate focused information and tasks. [2004]

1.4.19 Where briefer CBT is used, it should be around 7 hours and designed to integrate with structured self-help materials. [2004]

1.4.20 For a few people, more intensive CBT over a very short period of time might be appropriate. [2004]

Pharmacological interventions

1.4.21 Benzodiazepines are associated with a less good outcome in the long term and should not be prescribed for the treatment of individuals with panic disorder. [2004]

1.4.22 Sedating antihistamines or antipsychotics should not be prescribed for the treatment of panic disorder. [2004]

Antidepressant medication

Antidepressants should be the only pharmacological intervention used in the longer term management of panic disorder. The two classes of antidepressants that have an evidence base for effectiveness are the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs).

1.4.23 The following must be taken into account when deciding which medication to offer:

  • the age of the person

  • previous treatment response

  • risks

    • the likelihood of accidental overdose by the person being treated and by other family members if appropriate

    • the likelihood of deliberate self-harm, by overdose or otherwise (the highest risk is with TCAs)[10]

  • tolerability

  • the possibility of interactions with concomitant medication (consult appendix 1 of the 'British National Formulary') [10]

  • the preference of the person being treated

  • cost, where equal effectiveness is demonstrated. [2004]

1.4.24 All people who are prescribed antidepressants should be informed, at the time that treatment is initiated, of potential side effects (including transient increase in anxiety at the start of treatment) and of the risk of discontinuation/withdrawal symptoms if the treatment is stopped abruptly or in some instances if a dose is missed or, occasionally, on reducing the dose of the drug. [2004]

1.4.25 People started on antidepressants should be informed about the delay in onset of effect, the time course of treatment, the need to take medication as prescribed, and possible discontinuation/withdrawal symptoms. Written information appropriate to the person's needs should be made available. [2004]

1.4.26 Unless otherwise indicated, an SSRI licensed for panic disorder should be offered. [2004]

1.4.27 If an SSRI is not suitable or there is no improvement after a 12-week course and if a further medication is appropriate, imipramine[11] or clomipramine[12] may be considered. [2004]

1.4.28 When prescribing an antidepressant, the healthcare professional should consider the following.

  • Side effects on the initiation of antidepressants may be minimised by starting at a low dose and increasing the dose slowly until a satisfactory therapeutic response is achieved.

  • In some instances, doses at the upper end of the indicated dose range may be necessary and should be offered if needed.

  • Long-term treatment may be necessary for some people and should be offered if needed.

  • If the person is showing improvement on treatment with an antidepressant, the medication should be continued for at least 6 months after the optimal dose is reached, after which the dose can be tapered. [2004]

1.4.29 If there is no improvement after a 12-week course, an antidepressant from the alternative class (if another medication is appropriate) or another form of therapy (see 1.4.9) should be offered. [2004]

1.4.30 People should be advised to take their medication as prescribed. This may be particularly important with short half-life medication in order to avoid discontinuation/withdrawal symptoms. [2004]

1.4.31 Stopping antidepressants abruptly can cause discontinuation/withdrawal symptoms. To minimise the risk of discontinuation/withdrawal symptoms when stopping antidepressants, the dose should be reduced gradually over an extended period of time. [2004]

1.4.32 All people prescribed antidepressants should be informed that, although the drugs are not associated with tolerance and craving, discontinuation/withdrawal symptoms may occur on stopping or missing doses or, occasionally, on reducing the dose of the drug. These symptoms are usually mild and self-limiting but occasionally can be severe, particularly if the drug is stopped abruptly. [2004]

1.4.33 Healthcare professionals should inform people that the most commonly experienced discontinuation/withdrawal symptoms are dizziness, numbness and tingling, gastrointestinal disturbances (particularly nausea and vomiting), headache, sweating, anxiety and sleep disturbances. [2004]

1.4.34 Healthcare professionals should inform people that they should seek advice from their medical practitioner if they experience significant discontinuation/withdrawal symptoms. [2004]

1.4.35 If discontinuation/withdrawal symptoms are mild, the practitioner should reassure the person and monitor symptoms. If severe symptoms are experienced after discontinuing an antidepressant, the practitioner should consider reintroducing it (or prescribing another from the same class that has a longer half-life) and gradually reducing the dose while monitoring symptoms. [2004]

Step 4 for people with panic disorder: review and offer referral from primary care if appropriate

1.4.36 In most instances, if there have been two interventions provided (any combination of psychological intervention, medication, or bibliotherapy) and the person still has significant symptoms, then referral to specialist mental health services should be offered. [2004]

Step 5 for people with panic disorder: care in specialist mental health services

1.4.37 Specialist mental health services should conduct a thorough, holistic reassessment of the individual, their environment and social circumstances. This reassessment should include evaluation of:

  • previous treatments, including effectiveness and concordance

  • any substance use, including nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and recreational drugs

  • comorbidities

  • day-to-day functioning

  • social networks

  • continuing chronic stressors

  • the role of agoraphobic and other avoidant symptoms.

    A comprehensive risk assessment should be undertaken and an appropriate risk management plan developed. [2004]

1.4.38 To undertake these evaluations, and to develop and share a full formulation, more than one session may be required and should be available. [2004]

1.4.39 Care and management should be based on the individual's circumstances and shared decisions made. Options include:

  • treatment of co-morbid conditions

  • CBT with an experienced therapist if not offered already, including home-based CBT if attendance at clinic is difficult

  • full exploration of pharmaco-therapy

  • day support to relieve carers and family members

  • referral for advice, assessment or management to tertiary centres. [2004]

1.4.40 There should be accurate and effective communication between all healthcare professionals involved in the care of any person with panic disorder, and particularly between primary care clinicians (GP and teams) and secondary care clinicians (community mental health teams) if there are existing physical health conditions that also require active management. [2004]

Monitoring and follow-up for individuals with panic disorder
Psychological interventions

1.4.41 There should be a process within each practice to assess the progress of a person undergoing CBT. The nature of that process should be determined on a case-by-case basis. [2004]

Pharmacological interventions

1.4.42 When a new medication is started, the efficacy and side-effects should be reviewed within 2 weeks of starting treatment and again at 4, 6 and 12 weeks. Follow the summary of product characteristics with respect to all other monitoring required. [2004]

1.4.43 At the end of 12 weeks, an assessment of the effectiveness of the treatment should be made, and a decision made as to whether to continue or consider an alternative intervention. [2004]

1.4.44 If medication is to be continued beyond 12 weeks, the individual should be reviewed at 8- to 12-week intervals, depending on clinical progress and individual circumstances. [2004]


1.4.45 Individuals receiving self-help interventions should be offered contact with primary healthcare professionals, so that progress can be monitored and alternative interventions considered if appropriate. The frequency of such contact should be determined on a case-by-case basis, but is likely to be between every 4 and 8 weeks. [2004]

Outcome measures

1.4.46 Short, self-completed questionnaires (such as the panic subscale of the agoraphobic mobility inventory for individuals with panic disorder) should be used to monitor outcomes wherever possible. [2004]

[4] For NICE guidance on depression, obsessive–compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder see our overview page on mental health and behavioural conditions.

[6] See also the NICE guidance on drug misuse and alcohol-use disorders.

[8] As of 1 April 2019, pregabalin is a Class C controlled substance (under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971) and scheduled under the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 as Schedule 3. Evaluate patients carefully for a history of drug abuse before prescribing and observe patients for development of signs of abuse and dependence (MHRA, Drug Safety Update April 2019).

[9] Step 4 normally refers to community mental health teams but may include specialist services and specialist practitioners in primary care.

[10] The text shown in italics in this recommendation was amended in 2007.

[11] At the time of publication (January 2011) imipramine did not have UK marketing authorisation for this indication. Informed consent should be obtained and documented.

[12] At the time of publication (January 2011) clomipramine did not have UK marketing authorisation for this indication. Informed consent should be obtained and documented.

  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)