Cookies on this website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Continue' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

BACKGROUND:The sympathetic nervous system has long been believed to be involved in the pathogenesis of panic disorder, but studies to date, most using peripheral venous catecholamine measurements, have yielded conflicting and equivocal results. We tested sympathetic nervous function in patients with panic disorder by using more sensitive methods. METHODS:Sympathetic nervous and adrenal medullary function was measured by using direct nerve recording (clinical microneurography) and whole-body and cardiac catecholamine kinetics in 13 patients with panic disorder as defined by the DSM-IV, and 14 healthy control subjects. Measurements were made at rest, during laboratory stress (forced mental arithmetic), and, for 4 patients, during panic attacks occurring spontaneously in the laboratory setting. RESULTS:Muscle sympathetic activity, arterial plasma concentration of norepinephrine, and the total and cardiac norepinephrine spillover rates to plasma were similar in patients and control subjects at rest, as was whole-body epinephrine secretion. Epinephrine spillover from the heart was elevated in patients with panic disorder (P=.01). Responses to laboratory mental stress were almost identical in patient and control groups. During panic attacks, there were marked increases in epinephrine secretion and large increases in the sympathetic activity in muscle in 2 patients but smaller changes in the total norepinephrine spillover to plasma. CONCLUSIONS:Whole-body and regional sympathetic nervous activity are not elevated at rest in patients with panic disorder. Epinephrine is released from the heart at rest in patients with panic disorder, possibly due to loading of cardiac neuronal stores by uptake from plasma during surges of epinephrine secretion in panic attacks. Contrary to popular belief, the sympathetic nervous system is not globally activated during panic attacks.

Original publication

DOI

10.1001/archpsyc.55.6.511

Type

Journal article

Journal

Archives of general psychiatry

Publication Date

06/1998

Volume

55

Pages

511 - 520

Addresses

Human Neurotransmitter Research Laboratory, Baker Medical Research Institute, and the Alfred Heart Centre, Prahran, Melbourne, Australia.

Keywords

Muscles, Myocardium, Adrenal Medulla, Heart, Sympathetic Nervous System, Humans, Epinephrine, Norepinephrine, Radioisotope Dilution Technique, Stress, Psychological, Panic Disorder, Personality Inventory, Blood Pressure, Heart Rate, Adult, Aged, Middle Aged, Female, Male