The nationally distributed online community news service 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?

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The online community news service Patch has covered the research of SMU psychologist Dr. Alicia Meuret, which found that panic attacks that seem to strike out-of-the-blue are not without warning after all.


By Treacy Colbert

It comes on suddenly — your body ambushes you with dizziness, nausea, sweat, a racing pulse and, worst of all, an impending sense of doom. It’s a panic attack, and while it feels like a sneak attack to most sufferers, a new study shows that many people may actually experience warning signs that simply go undetected.

Sufferers describe symptoms such as pounding heart, dizziness, nausea, a sense of impending doom, sweating, shaking, and shortness of breath, among others.

Not all panic attacks are unexpected. A person who has an intense fear of enclosed spaces or of flying on an airplane can expect that being in a packed elevator or on a flight will cue a panic attack. However, those who suffer from seemingly unpredictable panic attacks often report that the fear of having another random attack can be paralyzing. Sufferers frequently alter their lifestyle and even isolate themselves out of fear that an attack will come on without warning.

But new research from Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas suggests that the body produces warning signs of an impending panic attack as early as an hour beforehand. Significantly, the study reveals that sufferers were unaware of these advance signals. They report their attack as a sudden, out-of-the-blue experience???but don’t seem to sense the physical changes that were gathering and leading up to the full-blown sense of panic.

In the study, researchers monitored physiological changes in 43 patients who suffer from panic disorder. Electrodes and sensors attached to their bodies measured their respiration, analyzing fast or irregular breathing, as well as heart rate, evidence of sweating, and other physiological signs. Participants in the study wore the monitors for 24 hours on two occasions, and a total of 1,960 hours of data was collected.

During this time participants experienced 13 unexpected panic attacks. However, the data analysis revealed that symptoms such as hyperventilating accumulated and gathered prior to the attack but that the panic attack sufferers did not pick up on these signals.

“It is hard to control something that one does not sense,” noted Alicia Meuret, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University and lead author of the study.

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