Panic disorder in primary care: patients' attributions of illness causes and willingness to accept psychiatric treatment

Int J Psychiatry Med. 2000;30(4):367-84. doi: 10.2190/TXNB-V7VU-7H32-C7YT.


Objective: This study assessed the causes that primary care patients with panic disorder (PD) attribute to their panic symptoms, and their acceptance of various psychiatric treatment options.

Methods: In a cross-sectional assessment of 306 patients treated at two primary care clinics, 42 met criteria for DSM-IV PD in the past year. The authors classified these 42 PD-positive patients to one of two groups: those receiving both primary and specialty mental health care (PC+MH; n = 19) and those receiving only primary care (PC-only; n = 23). Patients rated the probability of four possible causes of their panic symptoms, and level of acceptability of three psychiatric and two medical treatments for PD. To place primary care patients' ratings into a broader context, a third contrast group of PD-positive patients, recruited from clinical trials of investigational PD pharmacotherapies (n = 31), also rated causes and treatment acceptability.

Results: Participants of the three treatment groups attributed psychiatric causes for their panic symptoms in approximately the same proportion (78 percent to 90 percent; p = ns). PC-only participants attributed medical causes for panic symptoms more frequently than PC+MH and PD Clinical Trials participants (48 percent vs. 5 percent and 32 percent; p = .01). Remarkably, the great majority of patients across all groups expressed willingness to see psychiatrists (84 percent to 94 percent) and psychotherapists (95 percent to 100 percent), and to take psychotropic medications (87 percent to 100 percent).

Conclusions: In this study most patients attributed a psychiatric cause for panic symptoms and communicated strong acceptance of psychiatric treatment. Thus, we recommend that primary care clinicians more assertively inform their patients of PD diagnoses and recommend psychiatric treatments with less fear about stigmatizing and alienating them.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Panic Disorder / psychology*
  • Panic Disorder / therapy
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Patient Care Team*
  • Primary Health Care
  • Psychotherapy*
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use
  • Sick Role*


  • Psychotropic Drugs