An evaluation was made of the influence of different psychiatric co-morbidities on the symptoms of the disorder popularly known as "ataque de nervios" (nervous breakdown) among the US Hispanic population. Using a self-completed instrument designed specially for both traditional nervous breakdown and for panic symptoms, and structured or semi-structured psychiatric interviews for Axis I disorders, and evaluation was made of Hispanic subjects who sought treatment for anxiety in a clinic (n = 156). This study centered on 102 subjects who presented symptoms of "nervous breakdown" and comorbidity with panic disorder, other anxiety disorders, or affective disorder. Variations in co-morbidity with "nervous breakdown" enabled the identification of different patterns of "nervous breakdown" presenting symptoms. Individuals with "nervous breakdown" and panic disorder characteristically expressed a greater sense of asphyxiation, fear of dying, and growing fear (panic-like) during their breakdowns. Subjects with "nervous breakdown" and affective disorder had a greater sensation of anger and more tendency toward screaming and aggressive behavior such as breaking things during the breakdown (emotional anger). Finally, subjects with "nervous breakdown" and co-morbidity with another anxiety disorder had fewer "paniclike" or "emotional anger" symptoms. These findings suggest that: a) the widely used term "nervous breakdown" is a popular label for different patterns of loss of emotional control; b) the type of loss of emotional control is influenced by the associated psychiatric disorder; and c) the symptoms characteristics of the "nervous breakdown" can be useful clinical markers for associated psychiatric disorders. Future research is needed to determine whether the known Hispanic entity "ataque de nervios" is simply a popular description for different aspects of well-known psychiatric disorders, or if it reflects specific demographic, environmental, personality and/or clinical characteristics of the population.