60-Second Mind

Panic Attack Sufferers Are Unaware of Symptoms

Panic attacks seem to come out of nowhere, but research finds symptoms appear up to one hour before the sufferer is aware of the attack. Christie Nicholson reports

A panic attack seems to come out of the blue. But new research
finds that the body gives unmistakable clues long before an
attack hits.

Scientists used mobile sensors to monitor the respiration and
heart rates of 43 panic attack sufferers for 24 hours during their
regular activities. And they found that subjects who wound
up having an attack actually had significant instability in their
physiology up to an hour before they felt the panic. The study is
published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

The researchers found that subjects had no awareness of
increasing changes—like chest pain, dizziness, trembling, hot
flashes—until 60 minutes after the symptoms began.

Some panic attacks are predictable, like when a claustrophobic steps into a crowded elevator. But those who get unexpected attacks describe it as: I was just watching TV and I got a rush out of nowhere.

The study authors note that this lack of awareness may explain
why meds work better for sufferers than cognitive behavioral
therapy does: How is the patient supposed to work on
something that they are unaware is already in progress?

—Christie Nicholson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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