Background:  Epidemiological data on panic disorder from community studies from 10 countries around the world are presented to determine the consistency of findings across diverse cultures.

Method:  Data from independently conducted community surveys from 10 countries (the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, France, West Germany, Italy, Lebanon, Taiwan, Korea, and New Zealand), using the Diagnostic Interview Schedule and DSM-III criteria and including over 40 000 subjects, were analyzed with appropriate standardization for age and sex differences among subjects from different countries.

Results:  The lifetime prevalence rates for panic disorder ranged from 1.4 per 100 in Edmonton, Alberta, to 2.9 per 100 in Florence, Italy, with the exception of that in Taiwan, 0.4 per 100, where rates for most psychiatric disorders are low. Mean age at first onset was usually in early to middle adulthood. The rates were higher in female than male subjects in all countries. Panic disorder was associated with an increased risk of agoraphobia and major depression in all countries.

Conclusions:  Panic disorder is relatively consistent, with a few exceptions, in rates and patterns across different countries. It is unclear why the rates of panic and other psychiatric disorders are lower in Taiwan.