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February 1989

Cortisol and Sodium Lactate—Induced Panic

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1989;46(2):135-140. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1989.01810020037007

• Sodium lactate infusions induce panic attacks in patients with panic disorder, but not in normal controls, by an unknown mechanism. We studied the plasma cortisol response to infusion of O.5 mol/L of sodium lactate in 103 patients with panic disorder or agoraphobia with panic attacks, and 32 normal controls. Baseline cortisol levels did not distinguish early panickers from nonpanickers and controls, but late panickers had significantly elevated baseline cortisol levels. In addition, a higher percentage of late panickers manifested an increase in cortisol during the baseline period compared with the other groups. Despite the fact that late panickers manifested elevated baseline cortisol levels, early panickers had significantly greater somatic distress as measured by the Acute Panic Inventory. There was no increase in cortisol with lactate-induced panic, and cortisol levels fell significantly during the lactate infusion in all groups. Cortisol elevation occurred with moderate anxiety but not with severe panic anxiety. These results suggest different pathophysiologic mechanisms of early and late panic, and differences between anticipatory anxiety and panic anxiety.