Panic disorder occurs frequently with different forms of cardiovascular disease and hypertension. The 13 panic symptoms described in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) often overlap with manifestations of cardiovascular disorders, raising problems in the differential diagnosis. In order to explore in greater detail the phenomenology of panic symptoms in cardiovascular patients, the Structured Clinical Interview for Panic-Agoraphobic Spectrum (SCI-PAS) was administered to 111 patients with hypertension and 29 patients with a recent myocardial infarction.
With regard to the frequency of endorsement of many of the symptoms assessed on the SCI-PAS, more than 40% of the cardiovascular patients who failed to meet the DSM-IV criteria for panic disorder did not significantly differ from the 10% of cardiovascular patients who did fulfill the criteria for panic disorder. A third distinct subgroup comprising 48.6% of the cardiovascular patients reported a significantly smaller number of SCI-PAS symptoms than the other two groups.
These preliminary findings suggest the existence of a relatively large proportion of cardiovascular patients who present with physical and psychological symptoms that are potentially related to panic disorder and that may provoke considerable subjective distress. Further studies are needed to clarify the nature of these symptoms and their potential interference with treatment and symptomatology of cardiovascular disease.