Heart palpitations. Shortness of breath. Dizziness and overwhelming waves of intense fear. These are some of the sensations that people with panic disorder face in their everyday lives, with unsettling episodes that come on without notice or identifiable triggers. And lots of people live this way; according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about 4.7% of adults in America deal with panic disorder at some point in their lives. Even more people — about 7% to 8% of U.S. adults — face post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in their lifetimes. Making accessible treatment crucial. And new evidence shows that an at-home digital therapeutic (DTx) can provide much-needed care for folks with panic disorder and PTSD.
In a recent study that was conducted by the makers of the DTx Freespira, data shows that the FDA-cleared therapeutic helped significantly in reducing symptoms with a high rate of user adherence (around 75%) to the treatment. Over a four-week treatment period, about two-thirds of the 1,569 subjects with panic disorder and PTSD reported significant drops in the severity of their symptoms. The study had notably low dropout rates: 10% for panic disorder patients and 11% for those with PTSD. Among the patients who stuck with the program, the group with panic disorder had about a 65% positive response rate, while those with PTSD had a 75% rate.
So how does Freespira work? By focusing on breathing patterns. The Freespira system comes with a nasal cannula, which is a nose-tube device that’s commonly used to deliver oxygen to patients. But in this case, the cannula is used to measure the wearer’s exhaled carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and respiration rate in real time. It’s connected to a sensor that collects the physiological data and then sends the information to an app that helps guide the user through breathing sessions. An online coach provides additional support via video visits and questionnaires. Over the 28-day program, patients re-train their breaths to normalize carbon dioxide levels and stabilize respiration. After the treatment, the app helps users to practice their new breathing skills.
Freespira CEO Joseph Perekupka says of the study, “This real-world data shows that patients remain engaged throughout treatment, and they are seeing real relief from their symptoms.” The study’s lead researcher, Dr. Robert Cuyler, adds, “The treatment uses a sophisticated respiratory feedback technology guided by personal coaching to help patients develop a greater sense of control and mastery of their physiological reactions, which we know play an important role in panic disorder and PTSD…thus demonstrating [the DTx’s] potential as a viable alternative to existing psychological or pharmacological treatments.”