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Panic attacks may be linked to other diseases too !!

You may have heard about term, panic disorder. It is actually a kind of anxiety disorder or condition that is characterized by a series of recurrent attacks which may include the individual worrying about future attacks causing them to experience behavioral changes resulting directly from the panic episodes.

Now a panic attack is just a small portion of the panic disorder where the individual experiences sudden and repeated bouts of overwhelming fear. These attacks usually begin in adolescence or early adulthood and are usually much more intense than normal feelings of anxiety or stress.

But what is even more serious are the diseases that can possibly occur after having experienced repeated panic attacks. And yes these diseases are much more serious than you think. Take a look and find out how panic attacks can cause 2 serious diseases like - one which has to do with heart diseases and the other which involves diabetes.

Panic attacks linked to higher risk of heart disease  !!

A research study found out that individuals who have been diagnosed with panic attacks or panic disorder have a greater risk of subsequently developing heart disease or suffering a heart attack than the normal population. Higher rates of heart attacks were found occurring in younger individuals.

Studies found that people who were younger than 50 when first diagnosed had a significantly higher risk of subsequent heart attacks (or myocardial function, MI) but this wasn’t the case in older people.

Also, there was a higher incidence of subsequent coronary heart disease (CHD) in people diagnosed with panic attacks disorders at all ages but was higher in those people who were under the age of 50.

Finally, it was also found that the risks of dying from CHD were actually decreased amongst people of all ages who had been diagnosed with panic attacks/disorder.

A senior researcher has said that while the relationship between panic disorder and cardiac disease, the symptoms of panic attacks can closely mimic those of a heart attack or acute cardiac disease and chances were there that there could be a complex relationship between them.

A few findings of panic attacks!!

Panic attacks were linked to a significantly increased risk of subsequent diagnosis of CHD and acute MI in individuals aged younger than 50. 

It could also be due to an initial misdiagnosis of CHD as panic attacks or a true underlying increased risk of CHD with panic attacks.

A Point to note: Clinicians should be more vigilant for this possibility when diagnosing and treating people presenting with symptoms of panic.

The study!!

Researchers looked at primary care medical records for 57,615 adults diagnosed with panic attacks/disorders and 347.039 adults who did not have the condition and found the following results.

  • Individuals aged under the age of 50 were more than a third (38 %) as likely to have a heart attack
  • Nearly as half as 44% of individuals were likely to develop heart disease subsequent than people who weren’t still diagnosed with the condition. 
  • For people aged over 50, there were still slightly increased risks of heart disease, 11 %. 

However, when the researchers looked the deaths amongst adults diagnosed with panic attacks/disorder, they found that, for all the age groups, the risk of death from heart disease was decreased by about a quarter, 24 % compared to the people from the normal population.

Researchers also speculate about the possible reasons for the decreased risks of death -

  • It could be because of the higher risk of coronary heart disease and heart attacks occurred amongst younger people where there was very little or fewer related heart deaths.  
  • It could also be because people who had panic disorders went to their doctors earlier and on a more frequent basis.  

These people were more likely to have their heart disease identified and treated early thus reducing the chances or risks of dying from the disease.

The study also found that women younger than the age of 40 with panic attacks/disorder had higher increases in the incidence of MI and CHD than men, while researchers say that this finding couldn't be confirmed yet and could also have happened by chance.

So how are panic attacks caused?

  • Panic attacks/disorders are linked to higher rates of MI and CHD and are not understood completely according to researchers. The findings could be due to several factors, including initial misdiagnosis of CHD as panic attacks/disorders by GPs or general practitioners. 
  • It could also be due to an increase in CHD(coronary heart disease) and acute MI(myocardial infarctions) caused by panic disorders. This can happen through the activation of the sympathetic nervous system in ways that could lead to clogging of the arteries and reductions in the normal variation in the heart rate. 

A researcher further went on to say that this theory rather than GP misdiagnosis was supported by the fact that, an increased risk of CHD with an increasing fre3quency of panic attacks/disorder events was also observed.

Interestingly upon making certain adjustments for identifying depression, researchers found out that certain patients with panic attacks along with depression had to be left undiagnosed, where depression also seemed to be a factor contributing to an increased risk of CHD.

What do the researchers have to say?

The researcher concluded the following things regarding a panic attack diagnosis-

  • People diagnosed with panic attacks should not let the findings of a research article cause them to be worried or stressed about their condition
  • While there may be a small increased risk among individuals diagnosed by their GP with panic attacks, the vast majority of people with panic attacks will not go on to have a heart attack or heart-related diseases such as angina. 
  • This is also very likely in the case of younger individuals as the overall likelihood of heart attacks at such a young age is relatively lower.  
  • People should be encouraged to go back to their GPs for further assessment if their symptoms continue or reoccur and the practitioners should consider the possibility of CHD or MI.
  • The prevalence of panic attacks that do not meet the full criteria for panic disorder is 1.9% of the general population
  • Panic disorder has a prevalence of about 1.8 % and can increase to 5.6-9.2 % of patients in primary care and 10-53% in cardiology outpatients and patients with documented CHD.

The research was carried out by Dr. Kate Walters, a senior lecturer in primary care at the University College London (UK).

 Panic Attacks associated with poor outcomes for Diabetic patients !!

According to a study, researchers found a strong link between panic episodes and increased complications from diabetes.

The Study !!

Researchers surveyed patients with diabetes about their symptoms, disability, social and emotion function and also their quality of life. They also collected data on the patient’s blood sugar levels, diabetic complications, and other illnesses.

Previous studies have found a strong connection between diabetes and depression which often goes along with panic disorders. This time researchers were keen on investigating about panic independently, just to see whether if patients who had panic without depression would also have poorer diabetic outcomes.

The results !!

Of the 4385 patients surveyed, 193 reported experiencing recent episodes panic or fear that caused them to change their current behavior. After accounting the effect of depression, panic episodes were linked with -

  • Higher blood sugar levels
  • Increased diabetic complications and symptoms
  • Greater disability
  • Lower self-rated health and functioning

Also, patients with panic were also reported to having major depression. By contrast, only 10 % of the patients without panic episodes had major depression.

Panic episodes could also be the direct result of diabetes itself. Panic attacks may also interfere with the patient’s self-care and the ability to follow their treatment plans.

Conclusion

Researchers recommend that individuals who have diabetes and doubt they have anxiety related problems should go and talk to their doctor about the possible treatment for curing their anxiety issues.

Also, doctors should carefully evaluate their patients with diabetes looking for signs of depression and panic disorders.

The research was carried out at the Group Health Cooperative Center for Health Studies.