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The global heart of panic.

The global heart of panic

An international study shows that panic disorder -- in essense, recurring panic attacks -- occurs throughout the world and involves several universal symptoms. "The heart is at the core of panic disorder across cultures," says Heinz Katschnig of the University of Vienna, Austria, who directed the collaborative effort. Commonly observed panic symptoms are heart palpitations, dizziness and faintness.

Katschnig bases his claim in part on interviews with 1,168 panic disorder patients from 14 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, England, France, Italy, Mexico, the United States, Spain, Sweden and West Germany. All were diagnosed according to current U.S. guidelines.

Although panic disorder crosses many time zones, cultural influences create some differences in its expressions, Katschnig notes. Symptoms such as choking or smothering sensations, numbness, tingling, and fear of dying occurred more frequently in Latin America and southern Europe. Fear and avoidance of public places was more common in northern Europe and North America. Patients reported a fear of going crazy and altered perceptions of themselves more often in the Americas than in Europe. Differences in climate, language and access to mental health care may shape cultural variations in panic disorder, Katschnig maintains.

The disorder also reaches beyond Western industrialized countries, says Michaela Amering of the University of Vienna. Two examples are "kayak-angst" among Greenland's Eskimos and "koro" in Southeast Asia, she asserts. Eskimo men may experience kayak-angst -- a sudden anxiety, dizziness and fear of dying -- while fishing placid ocean waters in cramped, one-person kayaks. Koro, described for more than 2,000 years, is a sudden fear that the genitals are retracting into one's body and will cause death. Both panic conditions are short-lived and subside with reassurance from others, Amering says.

"The data now available show more similarities thatn differences in panic disorder across cultures," observes Myrna M. Weissman of Columbia University in New York City. The main point of contention, she holds, is whether panic disorder occurs alone or as part of broader conditions, such as generalized anxiety and post-traumatic stress.
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Title Annotation:panic disorder
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:May 26, 1990
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