Panic attack as a risk factor for severe psychopathology

Renee D Goodwin, Roselind Lieb, Michael Hoefler, Hildegard Pfister, Antje Bittner, Katja Beesdo, Hans-Ulrich Wittchen
American Journal of Psychiatry 2004, 161 (12): 2207-14

OBJECTIVE: The purpose of the study was to examine the relationship between panic attack and the onset of specific mental disorders and severe psychopathology across the diagnostic spectrum among adolescents and young adults.

METHOD: Data were drawn from the Early Developmental Stages of Psychopathology Study (N=3,021), a 5-year prospective longitudinal study of psychopathology among youths ages 14-24 years at baseline in the community. Multiple logistic regression analyses were used to examine the associations between panic attacks at baseline, comorbid mental disorders in adolescence, and the risk of mental disorders across the diagnostic spectrum at follow-up.

RESULTS: The large majority of subjects with panic attacks at baseline developed at least one DSM-IV mental disorder at baseline (89.4% versus 52.8% of subjects without panic attacks). Subjects with panic attacks at baseline had significantly higher baseline levels of any anxiety disorder (54.6% versus 25.0%), any mood disorder (42.7% versus 15.5%), and any substance use disorder (60.4% versus 27.5%), compared to subjects without panic attacks at baseline. Preexisting panic attacks significantly increased the risk of onset of any anxiety disorder, social phobia, specific phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, any substance use disorder, and any alcohol use disorder at follow-up in young adulthood, and these associations persisted after adjustment for all comorbid mental disorders assessed at baseline. More than one-third (37.6% versus 9.8%) of the subjects with panic attack at baseline met the criteria for at least three mental disorders at follow-up during young adulthood.

CONCLUSIONS: Panic attacks are associated with significantly increased odds of mental disorders across the diagnostic spectrum among young persons and appear to be a risk factor for the onset of specific anxiety and substance use disorders. Investigation of key family, environmental, and individual factors associated with the onset of panic attacks, especially in youth, may be an important direction for future research.

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