Panic Attacks Don't Come Out of the Blue

Anxiety episodes have physical warning signs up to an hour beforehand

(RxWiki News) Panic attacks are thought to be something that happen so suddenly and unexpected, that one doesn't have a chance to be prepared.

The extreme anxiety that can cause shortness of breath, palpitations, shaking and chest pain create intense fear and apprehension. But there may be more warning signals than we've thought.

"Panic attacks have subtle warning signs, look for them."

Alicia Meuret, a psychologist at Southern Methodist University, completed research that showed panic attacks do not strike out of nowhere, with no cues or triggers.

Meuret studied 43 panic disorder patients, testing them under repeated 24-hour ambulatory monitoring. During the total 1,960 hours of recorded monitoring, 13 natural panic attacks occurred in the patients.

Beginning one hour before the attack manifested, researchers studied minute-by-minute information about the subjects' respiration, heart rate and skin conductance level. All of these measures were compared against control periods of no panic attacks in the same individual.

The team found that significant patterns of instability in all three areas were detected as early as 47 minutes before onset of the actual panic attack. Breathing was particularly marked as a trigger change before each attack.

"The study marks the first to gain an in-depth look into what occurs in early stages before a panic attack occurs," Meuret said. The findings suggest potentially new treatments for panic, as well as other medical problems generally considered to happen unexpectedly, such as seizures, strokes and manic episodes.

The study was published in the journal Biological Psychiatry in July 2011.

Review Date: 
September 22, 2011