Objective: To identify risk factors for onset of panic attacks in adolescents, a prospective cohort design was used to evaluate the following risk factors: negative affectivity, female sex, anxiety sensitivity, and childhood separation anxiety disorder. These risk factors were also evaluated for predicting onset of major depression to test their specificity.
Method: The sample consisted of 2,365 high school students assessed over a 4-year period. Assessments included self-report questionnaires and structured clinical interviews. Cox proportional hazards models were used to evaluate risk.
Results: Consistent with previous studies, prior major depression predicted onset of panic attacks and a history of panic attacks predicted onset of major depression. After adjusting for the effects of prior major depression, negative affectivity and anxiety sensitivity, but not female sex or childhood separation anxiety disorder, predicted onset of 4-symptom panic attacks. However, female sex and negative affectivity but not anxiety sensitivity or childhood separation anxiety disorder predicted onset of major depression after adjustment for the effects of prior panic attacks.
Conclusion: Negative affectivity appears to be a nonspecific risk factor for panic attacks and major depression, whereas anxiety sensitivity appears to be a specific factor that increases the risk for 4-symptom panic attacks in adolescents.