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Original Article
October 2007

Panic Attacks and Risk of Incident Cardiovascular Events Among Postmenopausal Women in the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston (Drs Smoller and Pollack); Department of Epidemiology and Social Medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, New York (Dr Wassertheil-Smoller); Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, The Ohio State University, Columbus (Dr Jackson); Division of Preventive Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Alabama at Birmingham (Dr Oberman); Heart Disease Prevention Program, Department of Medicine, University of California, Irvine (Dr Wong); and Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Florida and Malcolm Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Gainesville (Dr Sheps).

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007;64(10):1153-1160. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.64.10.1153
Abstract

Context  Previous studies have documented an association of depression and phobic anxiety with cardiovascular morbidity and mortality, but little is known about the cardiovascular sequelae of panic anxiety.

Objective  To determine whether panic attacks are associated with risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in postmenopausal women.

Design  Prospective cohort survey.

Setting  Ten clinical centers of the 40-center Women's Health Initiative.

Participants  A total of 3369 community-dwelling, generally healthy postmenopausal women (aged 51-83 years) enrolled between 1997 and 2000 in the Myocardial Ischemia and Migraine Study who completed a questionnaire about occurrence of panic attacks in the previous 6 months.

Main Outcome Measures  Cardiovascular/cerebrovascular outcomes (fatal and nonfatal myocardial infarction and stroke) and all-cause mortality were ascertained after a mean of 5.3 years of follow-up.

Results  A 6-month history of full-blown panic attacks, endorsed by 10% of postmenopausal women in this cohort, was associated with both coronary heart disease (hazard ratio, 4.20; 95% confidence interval, 1.76-9.99) and the combined end point of coronary heart disease or stroke (hazard ratio, 3.08; 95% confidence interval, 1.60-5.94) after controlling for multiple potential confounders. The hazard ratio for all-cause mortality, excluding those with a history of cardiovascular/cerebrovascular events, was 1.75 (95% confidence interval, 1.04-2.94).

Conclusion  Panic attacks are relatively common among postmenopausal women and appear to be an independent risk factor for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in older women.

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