Blood Test Could Spot Panic Disorder

The condition triggers specific genetic changes in white blood cells

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WEDNESDAY, March 7, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- It may be someday possible to use blood tests to check patients for panic disorder and other mental health conditions, new research suggests.

"People with panic disorder often end up in the emergency room for heart tests when in fact they have panic disorder. This is just one of the reasons that it would be helpful to have a blood test for panic disorder," lead researcher Dr. Robert Philibert, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Iowa said in a prepared statement.

His team published its study in the March 6 online issue of the American Journal of Medical Genetics.

In the study, the Iowa group analyzed genes in immature white blood cells taken from 16 people with panic disorder and 17 people without the disorder. In the cells of those with panic disorder, many genes were expressed either less or more often than in the cells of people without the disorder.

Overall, those with panic disorder had noticeably different patterns of gene expression, the study found.

"The ability to test for panic disorder is a quantum leap in psychiatry," Philibert said. "Panic disorder will no longer be a purely descriptive diagnosis, but, as with cystic fibrosis, Down syndrome and other conditions, a diagnosis based on genetic information. In addition, the finding could help us better understand the pathways that initiate, promote and maintain panic disorder."

In the United States, about 3 percent of people have panic disorder, defined as having at least one panic attack every four weeks. Symptoms of panic attacks include sweating, palpitations, shortness of breath, and a feeling of loss of control or dying. These symptoms are similar to those suffered by heart attack patients.

The University of Iowa is currently developing a panic disorder blood test for commercial use.

More information

The American Psychological Association has more about panic disorder.

SOUCE: University of Iowa, news release, March 6, 2007


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