When Anxiety Symptoms Masquerade as Medical Symptoms: What Medical Specialists Know about Panic Disorder and Available Psychological Treatments

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Abstract

Under-recognition of somatic symptoms associated with panic in primary care settings results in unnecessary and costly diagnostic procedures and inappropriate referrals to cardiologists, gastroenterologists, and neurologists. In the current study specialists' knowledge regarding the nature and treatment of panic were examined. One-hundred and fourteen specialists completed a questionnaire assessing their knowledge about panic attacks, including their perceptions of psychologists' role in treating panic. Respondents answered 51% of knowledge items correctly. Although most knew the definition of a panic attack, they knew less about clinical features of panic and its treatment. Specifically, whereas 97.4% believed medication effectively relieves panic symptoms, only 32.5% knew that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a first-line treatment. Only 6% reported knowing how to implement CBT, and only 56.1% recognized that psychologists could effectively treat panic. These findings demonstrate significant gaps in specialists' knowledge about panic and the need to enhance physician knowledge about panic attacks and their treatment.

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