Panic Disorder Increases the Risk of Heart Disease

According to a study in the current issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, people with panic disorder are at double the normal risk for coronary heart disease.  If an individual is also diagnosed with depression, the risk triples.

Published in the current issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, the study focused on 40,000 individuals who had been diagnosed with panic disorder.  This disorder is characterized by unexpected attacks of extreme fear and is accompanied by physical symptoms that can include shortness of breath, heart palpitations, cold and tingling hands, and chest pain.  In fact, many people mistakenly believe that they are having a heart attack when they are actually experiencing a panic attack.

The American Psychological Association (APA) says that one out of every 75 people may experience panic attacks. The disorder usually appears during the teens or early adulthood, and while the exact causes are not known, there seems to be a connection with major life transitions such as getting married or having a child.  There is also evidence that some individuals may have a genetic disposition toward panic attacks.  

The authors of the study say that it is not clear why panic attacks may trigger coronary heart disease.  They point out, however, that certain responses to depression have been shown to increase the risk of coronary heart disease.  This reinforces the study’s conclusion that the association between panic disorder and coronary heart disease suggests the need for physicians to monitor individuals with panic disorder in the interest of cutting the risk of coronary heart disease.

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