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Original Research

Chest Pain and Its Importance in Patients With Panic Disorder: An Updated Literature Review

David A. Katerndahl

Published: October 15, 2008

Article Abstract

Context: Chest pain is a common symptom in primary care settings, associated with considerable morbidity and health care utilization. Failure to recognize panic disorder as the source of chest pain leads to increased health care costs and inappropriate management.

Objective: To identify characteristics of the chest pain associated with the presence of panic disorder, review the consequences and possible mechanisms of chest pain in panic disorder, and discuss the recognition of panic disorder in patients presenting with chest pain.

Data sources: Potential studies were identified via a computerized search of MEDLINE and PsycINFO databases and review of bibliographies. MeSH headings used included panic disorder with chest pain, panic disorder with coronary disease or cardiovascular disorders or heart disorders, and panic disorder with cholesterol or essential hypertension or tobacco smoking.

Study selection: The diagnosis of panic disorder in eligible studies was based on DSM criteria, and studies must have used objective criteria for coronary artery disease and risk factors. Only case control and cohort studies were included.

Data synthesis: Although numerous chest pain characteristics (believed to be both associated and not associated with coronary artery disease) have been reportedly linked to panic disorder, only nonanginal chest pain is consistently associated with panic disorder (relative risk = 2.03, 95% CI = 1.41 to 2.92).

Conclusion: Chest pain during panic attacks is associated with increased health care utilization, poor quality of life, and phobic avoidance. Because the chest pain during panic attacks may be due to ischemia, the presence of panic attacks may go unrecognized. Ultimately, the diagnosis of panic disorder must be based on DSM criteria. However, once panic disorder is recognized, clinicians must remain open to the possibility of co-occurring coronary artery disease.

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