Panic attack as a marker of core psychopathological processes

Psychopathology. Nov-Dec 2001;34(6):278-88. doi: 10.1159/000049326.


Objective: The goal of this study is to test the hypothesis that panic attacks are a marker of core psychopathological processes across mental disorders and that there are distinct syndromal patterns of psychopathology associated with specific subtypes of panic attack that can be distinguished by age and associated fear at onset.

Methods: Data were drawn from the National Comorbidity Survey, a community-based household sample (n = 8,098) representative of the United States adult population. Four panic subtypes were identified based on findings from clinical studies and on our hypothesis. Multivariate logistic regression models were used to identify sociodemographic characteristics, panic symptoms and mental disorder correlates of each subtype.

Results: Results of multivariate logistic regression analyses identified distinct sociodemographic characteristics, panic symptoms, psychiatric comorbidity, suicidal behavior and use of services associated with early-onset and late-onset panic with and without fear/anticipatory anxiety at the first attack.

Conclusions: These findings provide support for the hypothesis that panic attacks are a marker of core underlying psychopathological processes and introduce new, preliminary evidence to support the possible existence of different panic subtypes in the general population. While these results need replication, these findings suggest that the specific type of comorbidity among those with panic attacks can be predicted to a large degree by the age and associated fear/anticipatory anxiety at the onset of the panic attacks.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Panic Disorder / diagnosis
  • Panic Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Panic Disorder / psychology
  • Psychopathology
  • Regression Analysis
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data
  • United States / epidemiology