Oral contraceptives and panic disorder

J Clin Psychiatry. 1992 May;53(5):163-5.


Background: There are no published reports of an association between triphasic oral contraceptives and the development of panic disorder.

Method: The authors describe two cases in which the use of triphasic oral contraceptives in women appear to have precipitated panic disorder. Treatment with the triphasic oral contraceptives was stopped and the patients were followed for 2 years.

Results: Both subjects had rapid and total resolution of their panic disorder symptoms following cessation of triphasic oral contraceptive medications.

Conclusion: Triphasic oral contraceptives in some predisposed women may lead to precipitation of panic disorder.

PIP: Panic disorder, a severe anxiety disorder, affects 1-2% of the general population, mostly women 20-40 years old. A 29-year-old married white women with no children presented with an 18-month history of panic attacks. Episodes of abrupt anxiety lasted 5-20 minutes and occurred 3-4 times per week accompanied by rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, dizziness, and a fear of losing control. She was evaluated by a cardiologist several months earlier for episodic tachycardia, but the tests were normal. She was taking .5 mg of lorazepam po 2-3 times per month, which relieved her anxiety. Her only other medication was 1 tablet/day of Triphasal oral contraceptive (OC). She was started on treatment with desipramine 10 mg, and the dose gradually increased to 60 mg/day which she was unable to tolerate because of marked anorexia; lorazepam .5 mg bid and 10.5-mg tablet p.r.n. was continued to address excess activation secondary to the tricyclic depressant. She had changed from a constant dose OC (Lo/Ovral) to a triphasic preparation (Triphasil) 6 months prior to the onset of her panic attacks. The OC was halted, and she has experienced no subsequent panic attacks or avoidance behaviors during 2 years of follow-up. In the 2nd case a 39-year-old married white woman with 3 children presented with a 3-year history of panic attacks. She was given Ortho-Novum 7/7/7 1 tablet/day for about 8 months prior to her 1st panic attack, which occurred while she was driving. Her medications were clorazepate 3.75 mg b.i. d. and Ortho-Novum 7/7/7 1 tablet g.d. for 21 days of each month; she had been taking both since October 1984. Her father and brother had exhibited some driving avoidance behaviors. Because the triphasic OC preparation possible precipitated her panic disorder with agoraphobia, she was changed to Ortho-Novum 1/35 OC which has markedly improved her anxiety for 2 years now.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Combined / adverse effects
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Synthetic / adverse effects*
  • Drug Combinations
  • Ethinyl Estradiol / adverse effects
  • Ethinyl Estradiol-Norgestrel Combination
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mestranol / adverse effects
  • Norethindrone / adverse effects
  • Norgestrel / adverse effects
  • Panic Disorder / chemically induced*
  • Panic Disorder / psychology


  • Contraceptives, Oral, Combined
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Synthetic
  • Drug Combinations
  • Norgestrel
  • Ethinyl Estradiol
  • Norinyl
  • Ethinyl Estradiol-Norgestrel Combination
  • Mestranol
  • Norethindrone