Association of panic disorder with a history of traumatic suffocation

Colin Bouwer, Dan J. Stein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations

Abstract

Objective: An important recent hypothesis suggests that panic disorder results from a false suffocation alarm. However, the association of panic disorder with a history of traumatic suffocation experiences (e.g., near- drowning and near-choking) has not been well studied. This study examined whether a history of traumatic suffocation might be more common in patients with panic disorder who have predominantly respiratory symptoms. Method: Patients with panic disorder (N= 176) and psychiatric comparison subjects (N=60) were questioned about a history of traumatic suffocation experiences. The panic disorder patients were classified as having predominantly respiratory, cardiovascular, occulovestibular, or gastrointestinal symptoms in order to determine a possible association between traumatic suffocation and symptom subtype. Results: The frequency of traumatic suffocation was significantly higher among the panic disorder patients (19.3%) than among the comparison subjects (6.7%). Within the panic disorder group, patients with a history of traumatic suffocation were significantly more likely to exhibit predominantly respiratory symptoms and nocturnal panic attacks, while patients without such a history were significantly more likely to have predominantly cardiovascular symptoms, occulovestibular symptoms, and agoraphobia. Conclusions: There may be a specific association between panic disorder and a history of traumatic suffocation, and such a history in turn appears associated with predominantly respiratory symptoms and nocturnal panic attacks. Although additional studies are needed to confirm these data, a history of traumatic suffocation might be hypothesized to play a role in the etiology of panic disorder in some patients and may provide a useful window on understanding the psychobiology of this disorder.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1566-1570
Number of pages5
JournalAmerican Journal of Psychiatry
Volume154
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes

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