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Childhood abuse and familial violence and the risk of panic attacks and panic disorder in young adulthood


Background. The objectives of the study were to examine linkages between exposure to childhood abuse and interparental violence and the subsequent development of panic attacks and panic disorder using data gathered on a birth cohort of 1265 New Zealand young people studied to the age of 21 years.

Method. Data on: (a) exposure to child abuse and interparental violence; (b) the development of panic attacks and panic disorder; and (c) other childhood and related factors were gathered over the course of a 21-year longitudinal study.

Results. After adjustment for childhood and related factors, exposure to childhood physical abuse was associated with a significantly increased risk of later panic attack (OR 2·3, 95% CI 1·1–4·9) and panic disorder (OR 3·0, 95% CI 1·1–7·9); childhood sexual abuse was associated with a significantly increased risk of panic attack (OR 4·1, 95% CI 2·3–7·2) and a marginally significant increase risk of panic disorder (OR 2·2; 95% CI 0·98–5·0). Exposure to interparental violence was unrelated to later panic attack or disorder after adjustment.

Conclusions. Exposure to childhood sexual and physical abuse was associated with increased risks of later panic attack/disorder even after adjustment for prospectively assessed confounding factors. However, exposure to interparental violence during childhood was not related to increased risk of later panic attack/disorder after adjustment. These data suggest the need for clinicians to be aware that patients with histories of childhood physical and sexual abuse may be at increased risk for panic during young adulthood.

Corresponding author
Dr R. Goodwin, Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, 1051 Riverside Drive, Unit 43, New York, NY 10032, USA. (Email:
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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
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