Panic attacks can involve a sudden rush of fear or intense anxiety and physical symptoms such as racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, light-headedness or nausea. When these attacks happen unexpectedly, the person has what is known as panic disorder.
The study compared the effectiveness of three types of treatment – internet-based cognitive behaviour therapy sessions, face-to-face sessions, and the use of medication (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) monitored by a psychiatrist.
Preliminary results, based on more than two years of research, showed that internet therapy was comparable with face-to-face treatment in reducing disturbing thoughts and improving stress and anxiety.
When undertaking internet-based therapy, sufferers of panic disorder have an initial face-to-face consultation with a psychologist and are then in regular email contact with the therapist.
Project Co-ordinator, Dr Litza Kiropoulos, said the results supported a new method of treatment for sufferers of panic disorder that was convenient and flexible to people throughout Australia.
"If the online method is as effective as face-to-face sessions, as our research suggests, this is likely to improve treatment accessibility for so many people, particularly in rural areas where people may not be able to access face-to-face treatment easily," she said.
"It could also be particularly useful to people suffering agoraphobia, who may feel unable to leave the house."
"We're not saying there will be no need for face-to-face therapy, this is just another method of therapy that people can access."
The study is being conducted by Dr Kiropoulos, Dr Britt Klein, Mr David Austin, Dr Ciaran Pier, Professor Leon Piterman and Ms Joanna Mitchell, all from Monash University's Department of General Practice.
People in Victoria interested in taking part in ongoing studies into online treatment for panic disorder should go to http://www.med.monash.edu.au/non-cms/mentalhealth/paniconline/.
For more information contact Dr Kiropoulos on +613 8575 2202 or Ms Diane Squires in Media Communications on +613 9905 9315 or 0417 603 400.