Panic attacks as a risk for later psychopathology: results from a nationally representative survey



Background: There is a growing body of literature suggesting that panic attacks without panic disorder are associated with increases in a wide range of psychopathology and impairment. However, the majority of the literature to date has been cross-sectional. Some longitudinal research supports the view that panic attacks are a nonspecific risk factor for future psychopathology. Using a large nationally representative longitudinal survey of adults, we sought to determine whether panic attacks predict new onset Axis I disorders. Methods: The Alcohol Use Disorder and Associated Disabilities Interview Schedule—DSM-IV Version was used to make diagnoses of psychiatric disorders in the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions Waves 1 and 2 (n = 34,653, aged 18 and older, response rate = 70.2%). Incident psychiatric disorders at Wave 2 were compared between people with and without panic attacks at Wave 1. Results: Panic attacks at Wave 1 were significantly associated with increased incidents of generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social phobia, major depression, dysthymia, mania and hypomania, any anxiety disorder, and any mood disorder even after adjusting for sociodemographic variables, Wave 1 Axis I disorders, and Axis II disorders (OR's ranging from 1.62 to 2.77). Conclusions: The presence of panic attacks may be an important indicator of overall psychological distress and the risk of more severe psychopathology in the future. Depression and Anxiety, 2011.  © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.