Panic Disorder and Chest Pain: Mechanisms, Morbidity, and Management

Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2002 Apr;4(2):54-62. doi: 10.4088/pcc.v04n0203.


Approximately one quarter of patients who present to physicians for treatment of chest pain have panic disorder. Panic disorder frequently goes unrecognized and untreated among patients with chest pain, leading to frequent return visits and substantial morbidity. Panic attacks may lead to chest pain through a variety of mechanisms, both cardiac and noncardiac in nature, and multiple processes may cause chest pain in the same patient. Panic disorder is associated with elevated rates of cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension, cardiomyopathy, and, possibly, sudden cardiac death. Furthermore, patients with panic disorder and chest pain have high rates of functional disability and medical service utilization. Fortunately, panic disorder is treatable; selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, benzodiazepines, and cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy all effectively reduce symptoms. Preliminary studies have also found that treatment of patients who have panic disorder and chest pain with benzodiazepines results in reduction of chest pain as well as relief of anxiety.