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, 36 (2), 100-4

[Rethink the Panic Disorder]

[Article in French]

[Rethink the Panic Disorder]

[Article in French]
O Amami et al. Encephale.


Introduction: We propose some reflexions on the validity of the conceptualization of panic disorder, its nosographical place, and its clinical homogeneity, through the study of the frequency of some of its psychiatric comorbidities.

Background: To define a panic attack, DSM IV requires a number of symptoms which vary from four to 13. However, some patients suffer from panic attacks with less than four symptoms (paucisymptomatic attacks) and which fill the other criteria of panic disorder. These patients would have a biological vulnerability, familial antecedents, and a treatment response which are similar to those that fill the criteria of the panic attack according to the DSM. Some authors differentiate the panic disorder in several sub-groups, such as the panic disorder with cardiorespiratory symptoms, or vestibular symptoms, or cognitive symptoms. This division of the panic disorder in several sub-groups would have an interest in the knowledge of the etiopathogeny, the attacks' frequency, the disorder severity and the treatment response. Panic disorder with prevalent somatic expression includes crises without cognitive symptoms. This sub-type can be common in the medical context, especially in cardiology, but it is often ignored, at the price of loss of socio-professional adaptability, and a medical overconsumption.

Discussion and arguments: The relationship between panic disorder and agoraphobia appears to be the subject of controversies. According to the behavioral theory, phobic disorder is the primum movens of the sequence of appearance of the disorders. American psychiatry considers agoraphobia as a secondary response to the panic disorder, and pleads for a central role of panic attacks as an etiopathogenic factor in the development of agoraphobia. The distinction between panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder can be difficult. This is due to the existence of paucisymptomatic panic attacks. Their paroxystic nature is difficult to distinguish from the fluctuations of the generalized anxiety disorder. This frequent comorbidity could be also due to the community of certain symptoms of each disorder. These observations increase the validity of the anxiety generalized disorder as an autonomous morbid entity, rather than corresponding to a residual syndrome of the panic disorder, and could be an argument of an implicit return to the Freudian concept of the anxiety neurosis. The frequent comorbidity of panic disorder and personality disorders suggests the existence of a link. The pathological personality can be a factor of vulnerability in the panic disorder, as it can be a consequence of the panic disorder through the personality changing related on the evolution of the disorder and its complications. The relationship between panic disorder and depression has been interpreted in various ways, with mainly three assumptions: the unit position, which considers anxiety and depression as concerning a common diathesis; the dualistic position, which suggests that anxiety and depression are heterogeneous diagnostic categories and the anxio-depressive position that considers anxiety and depression combined as a syndrome differing from the pure anxiety and pure depression. The genetic studies, as well as the family studies, clearly show that the two entities are undissociated. Likewise, the therapeutic action of serotoninergic antidepressants in the two types of disorders reinforces the idea of a common biological vulnerability between anxiety and depression. Several studies have shown a significant association between panic disorder and suicide. However, the suicidal conducts are multiple and proceed by complex interactions between factors of features and states. Accordingly, panic disorder can be considered as a factor of state associated with the suicidal risk.

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