Medscape, the medical blog serving physicians and the healthcare community, has covered the research of SMU psychologist Dr. Alicia Meuret showing panic attacks that seem to strike out-of-the-blue are not without warning after all.

Meuret’s study found significant physiological instability one hour before patients reported feeling a panic attack. The findings suggest potentially new treatments for panic, and re-examination of other “unexpected” medical problems, including seizures, strokes and manic episodes, says Meuret, an assistant professor in the SMU Department of Psychology. She was lead researcher on the study. Dr. David Rosenfield, an associate professor in SMU’s Department of Psychology, was lead statistician.

They reported the results in the journal Biological Psychiatry in the article “Do Unexpected Panic Attacks Occur Spontaneously?

Full article available with free registration with Medscape.


By Megan Brooks

Panic attacks do not come “out of the blue” but are preceded by physiological changes similar to those that precede seizures, stroke, and even manic episodes, a new study suggests.

“There is reason to believe that waves of physiological instability occur for a substantial period of time before the attack is reported by patients,” Alicia E. Meuret, PhD, an assistant professor from the Department of Psychology, Southern Methodist University, in Dallas, Texas, who led the study, told Medscape Medical News.

The finding may have relevance for other medical disorders where symptoms seemingly happen “out of the blue,” such as seizures, strokes, and even manic episodes, the researchers note.

There is speculation that panic attacks are triggered by marked changes in physiology, in particular breathing, Dr. Meuret explained. However, until now, very little is known on the physiological functioning of those with panic attacks outside the laboratory.

In the current study, 43 patients with panic disorder underwent repeated 24-hour ambulatory monitoring of various physiological indices, including respiration, heart rate, and skin conductance level. During 1960 hours of monitoring, 13 natural panic attacks were recorded.

“We managed to capture spontaneously occurring attacks in these recordings, which we were able to examine closer. The study marks the first to gain an in-depth look into what occurs in early stages before a panic attack occurs,” Dr. Meuret said. The investigators specifically analyzed the 60 minutes before panic onset and during the panic attack.

Full article available with free registration with Medscape.