Anxiety attacks are fairly common in people who have bipolar disorder. In fact, researchers involved with STEP-BD -- the largest treatment study of bipolar disorder conducted to date -- found that more than half the study participants with bipolar disorder also had a comorbid anxiety disorder.
What Is an Anxiety Attack?There is no formal psychiatric definition of "anxiety attacks." When the term is used, people are most often referring to a panic attack, which does have one. In a panic attack, a person feels sudden and intense fear, even to the point of terror, without the presence of actual danger. Some symptoms are pounding heart, chest pain, sweating, light-headedness, nausea, shortness of breath or choking sensations, trembling, and feeling detached from reality. Many people who first experience such an anxiety attack think they are having a heart attack.
There are few figures available on the comorbidity of bipolar disorder and panic attacks, but one limited study published in 2004 found that 32% of the participants with bipolar disorder experienced panic attacks.
Agoraphobia is a type of intense fear that can develop in people who have panic disorder. It can also occur without accompanying panic symptoms. People with agoraphobia are afraid to be in any place that might cause or be hard to escape anxiety attacks. Agoraphobia can be so severe that the sufferer refuses to leave his or her home.
- For additional information on panic disorder and anxiety attacks, see About.com's Panic Disorder site.
- Also see Understanding Agoraphobia, from About.com's Guide to Phobias.
GAD has been widely reported to accompany bipolar disorder. However, additional research is needed in this area.
- For in-depth information, see About.com's Generalized Anxiety Disorder site.
More than one study has found that people with bipolar disorder often report having suffered childhood abuse (physical and/or sexual). In one such study of 330 veterans with bipolar disorder, most of them men, almost half the men had undergone some kind of abuse in children. Thus, it is not surprising that PTSD and bipolar disorder are often diagnosed together.
- For in-depth information, see About.com's Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder site.
Anxiety Attacks from MedicationsSome psychiatric medications can cause anxiety attacks as a side effect, especially during the first days or weeks of use. Whenever you start a new medication, check the literature that accompanies it so you will recognize a side effect if it occurs. You may also check our Side Effects Library if you are experiencing anxiety attacks or any other symptom you believe may be a side effect of one of your medications.
If you do experience anxiety symptoms after starting a new medication, contact your doctor as soon as possible.
Want to learn more about what could be causing your anxiety? Visit the About.com Symptom Checker for a personalized possibility assessment.
Brown, GR, et al. Impact of childhood abuse on the course of bipolar disorder: a replication study in U.S. veterans J Affect Disord. 2005 Dec;89(1-3):57-67. Epub 2005 Oct 4.
Chen, YW, Dilsaver, SC. Comorbidity of panic disorder in bipolar illness: evidence from the Epidemiologic Catchment Area Survey. Am J Psychiatry. 1995; 152:280-282.
Doughty, CJ, et al. Bipolar-panic disorder comorbidity within bipolar disorder families: a study of siblings. Bipolar Disorders. 2004 Jun;6(3):245-52.
Yatham, Lakshmi, and Kusumakar, Vivek, ed. Bipolar Disorder: A Clinician's Guide to Biological Treatments. 2nd Edition. New York: Routledge, 2009 (227).