Impact of Panic Attacks on Bronchoconstriction and Subjective Distress in Asthma Patients With and Without Panic Disorder

Psychosom Med. 2017 Jun;79(5):576-584. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000443.


Objective: Panic disorder (PD) is common among asthma patients and is associated with worse asthma outcomes. This may occur because of psychophysiological factors or cognitive/affective factors. This study evaluated the impact of panic attacks (PAs) on bronchoconstriction and subjective distress in people who have asthma with and without PD.

Methods: A total of 25 asthma patients (15 with PD who had a PA [PD/PA], 10 without PD who did not have a PA [no PD/no PA]) were recruited from an outpatient clinic. They underwent a panic challenge (one vital capacity inhalation of 35% carbon dioxide [CO2]) and completed the Panic Symptom Scale, the Subjective Distress Visual Analogue Scale, and the Borg Scale before and after CO2. Forced expiratory volume in 1 second was assessed pre- and post-CO2; respiratory (i.e., CO2 production, minute ventilation, tidal volume) was continuously recorded, and physiological measures (i.e., systolic and diastolic blood pressure [SBP/DBP]) were recorded every 2 minutes.

Results: Analyses adjusting for age, sex, and provocative concentration of methacholine revealed no significant differences between groups in forced expiratory volume in 1 second change after CO2 inhalation (F(1, 23) < 0.01, p = .961). However, patients with PD/PA reported more panic (F(1, 22) = 18.10, p < .001), anxiety (F(1, 22) = 21.93, p < .001), worry (F(1, 22) = 26.31, p < .001), and dyspnea (F(1,22) = 4.68, p = .042) and exhibited higher levels of CO2 production (F(1, 2843) = 5.89, p = .015), minute ventilation (F(1, 2844) = 4.48, p = .034), and tidal volume (F(1, 2844) = 4.62, p = .032) after the CO2 challenge, compared with patients with no PD/no PA.

Conclusions: Results, presented as hypothesis generating, suggest that asthma patients with PD/PA exhibit increased panic-like anxiety, breathlessness, and a respiratory pattern consistent with hyperventilation that was not linked to statistically significant drops in bronchoconstriction.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Asthma / etiology
  • Asthma / physiopathology*
  • Bronchoconstriction / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Panic Disorder / complications
  • Panic Disorder / physiopathology*