What causes Panic Disorder?
Twenty years ago Panic Disorder was poorly understood even by most experts. It was called Anxiety Neurosis and was thought by some to stem from "deeply rooted" psychological conflicts and subconscious upsetting impulses of a sexual nature.
     Now we regard Panic Disorder as more of a physical problem with a metabolic core. It is not an emotional problem, although after suffering from it, emotionally healthy persons may develop depression or other problems. There are different theories about where in the nervous system the problem exists.
    There is considerable evidence pointing toward a DNA abnormality controlling the physiology of cholecystokinin, a neurotransmitter in the brainstem. (The brainstem is the part of the brain that controls heartbeat, breathing and other vital functions).
     In 1999 Canadian medical scientist Jacques Branwejn announced that his colleagues and he discovered a genetic mutation that appears to put people at risk for panic attacks.
     At a meeting of the Human Genome Organization in Edinburgh Scotland in 2002, Dr. Xavier Estevill, head of medical and molecular genetics at the Duran I Rynals Hospital in Barcelona Spain, discovered that a gene on some other chromosome, or some environmental factor early in development, may cause in some people an abnormality of chromosome 15. This defect may in turn make people more susceptible to panic attacks. It seems this genetic abnormality of chromosome 15 is not inherited because it is not present in all of the cells of those affected. Although this has been observed to occur in plants, this is the first discovery of such a chain of events in humans. Almost 100% of those with panic disorder or phobias had the duplication of genetic material on chromosome 15.
    Few experts still cling to the notion that this is not a physical disorder.
Scientific evidence clearly favors there being a physical cause of this disorder. It is regarded as a physical disorder much like Diabetes or Pneumonia.

Why am I claustrophobic?
Some people with panic disorder have only panic attacks.  They occur out of the blue with no apparent rhyme or reason.  Over half the people with panic disorder also experience, in addition to the unexpected panic attacks, fears of certain places or situations.  Traditionally, this has been called agoraphobia, a word derived from two ancient words meaning market place fear.  At the National Anxiety Foundation, we have found this term to be less useful in our present day understanding of the fears that typically bother persons with panic disorder. Claustrophobia is a far better understood term.  Nearly all of the situations that bother persons that are thought of as having claustrophobia are also situations that bother many persons who have panic disorder.
Stephen Cox, MD
President - NAF
Medical Director

Linda Vernon Blair

C. Todd Strecker

Board of Directors:
Father Edward Bradley
Georgann Chenault
Sarah Wood Cox
Keith Hartman MD

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Georgann Chenault 
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"No one understands how terrified I feel".