Close to 3% of the adult US population is known to be afflicted with panic disorders, with prevalence rates higher among women. Similarly, almost one fifth of the US population reportedly suffer from anxiety disorders, though less than half receive treatment for the same. Various medications are used to treat the conditions, including benzodiazepines. Xanax, the branded formulation of alprazolam, that belongs to this category is one of the most preferred medications, with the distinction of being the most prescribed psychiatric medication in US.  Subsequent sections will dwell on the mechanism of action, benefits and possible side effects of Xanax to help patients use the medication effectively.

Overview of Xanax

Alprazolam works by bring about a reduction in the levels of excitement in the brain, by working on the central nervous system. The calming effect of the medication helps to control anxiety and panic among patients. In addition to improving gamma-aminobutyric acid, it reduces the movement of chemicals that are responsible for nervousness and anxiety in patients. One of the reasons for generalized anxiety or panic is the imbalance in brain chemicals, and medications prescribed for the condition work by bringing down the movement of these chemicals. Patients suffering from depression, with anxiety disorders are also prescribed the medication.

Risks associated with the medication

The category of the medication comes with certain risks due to the mechanism of action and the desired outcomes. The drug is not to be stopped abruptly, but the dosage is to be gradually tapered, following which it is to be stopped; as per the recommendations of the treating psychiatrist. The medication belongs to the category of drugs that have a black box warning from the FDA. This is one of the most serious levels of warning and is intended to alert patient and healthcare providers about potential risks. There have been instances when the medication has been abused; such as mixing of the drug with alcohol to increase sedative effects. This can turn into serious condition; exposing the individual to the risk of coma and possible death.

Precautions that need to be followed while on the medication

The drug is not to be used concomitantly with intoxicating substances, as it could result in possible respiratory complications, apart from coma and fatal conditions. Patients diagnosed with respiratory illnesses are at an elevated risk of developing respiratory complications when on the medication. By virtue of the mechanism of action on the central nervous system, patients are advised to avoid certain tasks that require a high level of alertness and reflexes. For instance, operating machinery, driving, and working in hazardous environments require a high state of alertness. Medications that work on the CNS may compromise the reflexes. The drug is not recommended for pregnant women as this could have an impact on the new-born. It is also not suitable for women planning a pregnancy, or breastfeeding infants.

Conditions that need to be informed to the psychiatrist

Patients are advised to inform their treating psychiatrist of specific conditions, as certain conditions may require change in dosage or schedule as per assessment. For instance, patients with asthma, or respiratory illnesses are at risk of developing complications, and hence it is necessary to inform the psychiatrist of the condition. Similarly, patients with glaucoma, renal impairments or liver conditions are also expected to intimate the doctor of the condition. Other conditions that need special assessment or monitoring include patients who consume alcohol excessively, individuals with depression, and manic or suicidal tendencies. Addiction to drugs in the past is another condition that needs to be informed to the psychiatrist for suitable assessment and treatment.

Conditions that can be managed with Xanax

The medication, as outline above, is recommended for treating or managing anxiety and panic disorders. It is important to understand the distinction between anxiety arising out of routine challenges in life, and anxiety that is classified as generalized and anxiety that comes with depression. Anxiety that is linked to routine issues in life does not require medication or treatment and will resolve naturally with the tension that causes the condition.

Symptoms linked to anxiety disorders

Generalized anxiety or anxiety that accompanies depression requires medication. There are clear tell-tale symptoms that indicate the condition, and these symptoms typically last for a duration of six months or more. Symptoms include abnormal twitching, uncontrollable trembling, tension in the muscles, feelings of restlessness and overall fatigue.

Other symptoms include difficulty in breathing, sudden increase in heart beat rate, and profuse sweating. The patient may also have cold or damp hands, abnormally dry mouth, and dizzy feelings. There could be bouts of diarrhea, feelings of nausea and an urge to frequently urinate.  The patients may experience some difficulty in swallowing food or liquid. Behavioral changes may also be experienced such as difficulty in focusing or concentrating, with the mind abnormally going blank at times. The individual may be worked up most of the time, and also respond to situations or circumstances with an exaggerated action. Sleep may be affected, as the individual may find it difficult to either remain asleep or fall asleep.

Symptoms linked to panic disorders

Patients with the condition are known to experience panic attacks frequently or periodically. This is characterized by a short period of fear or some kind of discomfort. This is unusual from routine discomfort, as the feelings are intense in nature. Typical symptoms of the condition include the following – pounding and racy heartbeat, profuse sweating, and vigors or trembling. The patient may experience difficulty in breathing, with a choking sensation, apart from pain or discomfort in the chest. Feelings of dizziness and lightheaded feelings are also commonly experienced in addition to abdominal complications. The individual is likely to behave strangely, cut off from reality, apart from being detached from self. Irrational fears such as dying, or losing control may be experienced by the patient. Other symptoms include tingling sensations and hot flashes.

Commonly reported side effects of Xanax

Undesirable outcomes of the medication may be experienced when the treatment commences and is most likely to resolve when the medication is fully stopped. The nature and intensity of the side effects may differ from person to person, and depends on various factors, including health, pre-existing conditions, and medications. Some patients may not experience any undesirable effects whatsoever, whereas some may experience aggravated effects.

Frequently occurring mild effects

The patient is likely to feel drowsy when on the medication, and this could also be experienced as a lightheaded feeling.  The individual may feel low on energy levels, apart from a possible depressed state of mind. Headaches are a possibility in some patients, while individuals may experience confusion. There is also the possibility of patients experiencing insomnia as a result of the disorders, and this may result in irritability of have on impact on routines. Nervousness, restlessness or faint feelings are also a possibility. The ability to have well-coordinated movements or actions may be slightly affected; similarly, the individual may also experience some difficulty in memory retention. Other side effects of the medication include a reduction in sexual desire, that may have an impact on relationships. On a contrary note, there is also the possibility of individuals ending up with increased sexual desire. Certain involuntary movements may also cause social embarrassment, apart from possible muscle twitching and cramps that may be experienced.

Some of the undesirable effects of the medication may be contrasting or contrary. For instance, there is the possibility of some patients experiencing a dry mouth, whereas others may end up with increased salivation. Similarly, while certain patients may experience constipation, some may end up with diarrhea. There is the possibility of patients experiencing allergic reactions, including the possibility of outbreak of rashes or inflammation. Pain in the chest, and symptoms that are consistent with tachycardia may also be experienced by patients on the medication. In addition to the above, undesirable outcomes include nasal congestion, and hyperventilation. Other side effects include hypotension, that is wrongly considered as a less serious condition. The condition can actually turn serious in certain circumstances.

Patients may experience blurred vision, and women may have to contend with complications in menstruation. A distinct ringing sensation in the ears, medically known as tinnitus may be experienced by a small section of patients. There is a possibility of patients contracting upper respiratory infections, while many are known to suffer from excessive sweating. General overall weakness is one among the commonly occurring side effects of Xanax. By virtue of the effects on the brain and the chemicals, there is a possibility of patients experiencing abnormal or strange dreams. Other effects include irrational fear, and a sudden change in appetite, that could either be an increase or a decrease in dietary intake.

Effects that have an impact on routines

Certain effects are known to have an impact on routines. For instance, speech may be slurred in patients and this could be either embarrassing in a social setting or could have an impact when discharging professional responsibilities. Edema may be experienced in patients and this may result in visible or discernible changes, that may have a bearing in social settings. This may also have an impact on routines and abilities. As mentioned above, the change in appetite may result in weight gain and this could also have an impact on abilities. Similarly, a decrease in appetite and general weakness may affect the ability of the individual to work or perform certain actions.  Finally, there is also the possibility of the individual experiencing incontinence that may affect travel or socializing.

Allergic reactions of Xanax that need swift attention

Certain allergic reactions of Xanax require swift medical intervention before the condition turns serious and difficult to handle. For instance, symptoms of hives need to be quickly identified, and appropriate treatment is to be administered at the earliest. Other symptoms that need quick intervention include difficulty in breathing or any visible swelling in the face. This could be on the lips, on the tongue, or the throat. These symptoms may quickly aggravate and turn into medical emergencies that need hospitalization and triaging. The right treatment at the right time, will prevent needless hospitalization and emergency intervention.

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