Study Shows That Unexpected Panic Attacks Have Warning Signs

Some people with panic disorder have a pretty good idea about when a panic attack is likely--they know to expect one as the result of a certain trigger, such as an enclosed space or a crowd of people. But many others suffer from unexpected panic attacks that seem to occur unpredictably and without warning. A new study, however, has discovered that these unexpected attacks may not be as sudden as they appear to those experiencing them.

In this unique study, 43 patients wore a monitoring device for two 24 hour periods. This constant monitoring allowed the researchers to capture physiological data from the 60 minutes leading up to an unexpected panic attack, enabling them to see what was going on physically during that time. They discovered a number of significant physiological instabilities that the patients were unaware of, suggesting that the panic attack may actually be the result of a build-up of subtle physical changes. The researchers also found that the patients seemed to be chronically hyperventilating, which could be a trigger for a panic attack.

This study is an important step forward for panic research as well as research into other disorders that appear to have a sudden and unexpected onset. "I think this method and study will ultimately help detect what's going on before these unexpected events and help determine how to prevent them," said psychologist Alicia Meuret. "If we know what's happening before the event, it's easier to treat it."

Photo: Max Pixel

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