A Comparison of Persons With Early- Versus Late-Onset Panic Attacks

Background: Although some evidence suggests a bimodal age at onset of panic attacks, the literature comparing subjects with early versus late onset is limited. Previous work suggests that people with late-onset panic attacks may have fewer panic symptoms and exhibit less avoidance. This study sought to compare late-onset panic attacks and early-onset panic attacks with regard to (1) comorbidity, (2) health care utilization, and (3) illness behaviors and coping.

Method: This community-based study involved interviewing randomly selected adults for the presence of DSM-III-R panic attacks. If panic attacks were confirmed, subjects were asked questions concerning panic characteristics, psychiatric comorbidity, symptom perceptions, illness attitudes, coping, and family characteristics. Subjects reporting early-onset panic (panic onset < 50 years of age) were compared with those reporting late onset (onset >= 50 years of age). Significant univariate analyses were controlled for differences in age, panic duration, and socioeconomic status by using analysis of covariance and logistic regression.

Results: Subjects with late-onset panic attacks (N = 9) utilized the mental health sector less, but were more likely to present to family physicians for their worst panic. Patients with late-onset panic felt that choking and numbness more strongly disrupted function, but felt less strongly that either depersonalization or sweating disrupted function. Subjects with late-onset had fewer comorbid conditions and lower Symptom Checklist-90 scores. Late-onset subjects also had less hypochondriasis and thanatophobia while coping less through avoidance or wishful thinking.

Conclusion: Late-onset panic attacks are associated with less mental health utilization, lower levels of comorbidity, less hypochondriasis, and a greater number of positive coping behaviors.

J Clin Psychiatry 2000;61(6):422-427