OBJECTIVE: This study was undertaken to help clarify whether the higher
cholesterol levels found in patients with panic disorder are a complication
of panic disorder only or are associated with any psychiatric disorder.
METHOD: The subjects of the study were 30 patients with panic disorder and
30 patients with major depression, diagnosed according to the Structured
Interview for DSM-III-R, and 30 normal control subjects. The three groups
were matched for sex and age, and none of the subjects had alcohol/drug
abuse, abnormal ECGs, or unstable medical conditions. Blood samples were
drawn at random times, and serum cholesterol levels were determined.
RESULTS: The patients with panic disorder had significantly higher serum
cholesterol levels than did the patients with major depression and the
normal control subjects. Among the patients with major depression,
histories (current or past) of anxiety disorders were associated with
significant elevation of serum cholesterol levels. The presence of stable
medical conditions was not associated with higher cholesterol levels in any
of the three groups of subjects. CONCLUSIONS: Higher cholesterol levels
were particularly associated with panic disorder in comparison with major
depression. Higher levels of cholesterol in panic disorder are hypothesized
to be a result of increased noradrenergic activity, which may be the
underlying biological/neurochemical mechanism for symptoms of panic
disorder, including anticipatory anxiety.