Personality Trait May Link Smoking to Panic Attacks
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People who smoke cigarettes are more likely than nonsmokers to experience panic attacks, and people who are neurotic are more likely than others to exhibit both behaviors, new research suggests.
According to Dr. Renee Goodwin of New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University and her colleague Dr. Steven P. Hamilton, these findings suggest that smoking and panic attacks--which previous research has shown can be associated with each other --may both stem from a common source: neuroticism.
Neuroticism is considered a personality trait, Goodwin said, and is often described as a tendency to consistently perceive events in a negative light.
"It may be that neuroticism is the common third factor--which may be genetically or environmentally determined--which increases the risk and mediates the co-occurrence of panic attacks and cigarette smoking," Goodwin told Reuters Health.
Goodwin and Hamilton base their findings on surveys of more than 3,000 US adults, which consisted of questionnaires and one telephone interview. The researchers measured participants' levels of neuroticism based on their levels of moodiness, worrying, nervousness and lack of calm.
A total of 146 participants reported ever experiencing a panic attack, during which a person may have a number of symptoms, including shortness of breath, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, sweating, nausea, pounding chest pain and fear of dying. Of all the people who experienced panic attacks, 81% said they were once regular smokers, a behavior reported by only 69% of those who had never experienced panic attacks, according to the report in the July issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.
In addition, Goodwin and Hamilton found that patients who were neurotic were more likely than others to report both former or current smoking and a history of panic attacks. However, they note that neuroticism did not appear to predict either behavior alone.
In an interview with Reuters Health, Goodwin explained that it is not clear if smoking appears before panic attacks or vice versa in neurotic people. "If a person has high neuroticism and smokes cigarettes, this may lead to increased likelihood of panic attacks through other pathways such as respiratory abnormalities," she suggested.
"Or, a person with high neuroticism may experience panic attacks related to stressful events and begin cigarette smoking as a way of coping with anxiety," Goodwin added.