Maastricht: Panic disorder patients run a greater risk of experiencing panic attacks if they smoke regularly. This was shown in a doctoral research study performed by Inge Knuts of Maastricht UMC+. Based on the study findings, she recommends combining panic disorder treatment with treatment for tobacco dependence. People with panic disorder suffer from frequent and unexpected panic attacks. Recurrent panic attacks can easily result in sufferers avoiding situations or circumstances in which they might experience a panic attack. This fear of having a panic attack and the associated avoidance behaviour can pose huge drawbacks with respect to their everyday lives.
The aim of Knuts’ research was to gain further insight into the factors that cause or reinforce this panic and to determine whether current treatment methods can be improved. For this study, panic attacks were induced by the patient inhaling carbon dioxide. This took place under laboratory conditions so that the effects could be measured objectively and so that effective research could be conducted on the effects of the environment and the treatment.
One thing the study showed was that there is a clear relationship between smoking and a panic attack developing. ‘But that does not mean that smoking causes panic attacks. It is possible that the effect occurs simultaneously, but that there is no causal relationship. It could be that people with panic disorder smoke more because they suffer from panic attacks', said the PhD researchers. In order to gain a clear picture of the situation, a wide range of other studies on this mechanism were examined in a review. ‘This showed that smoking certainly does not cause panic attacks.’
Combined treatmentCognitive behavioural therapy, in short CBT, is the most effective and therefore the most commonly used type of treatment for panic disorder. CBT is a combination of cognition (thinking) and behavioural psychotherapy methods. ‘Combining smoking cessation treatment with CBT could increase the effectiveness of the panic disorder treatment’, said Knuts.
On 27 May, Inge Knuts was awarded a PhD with her thesis entitled ‘Influencing panic; Experimental and clinical studies into determinants of panic severity.’