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Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2004 Sep-Oct;26(5):390-7.

Olfactory-triggered panic attacks among Cambodian refugees attending a psychiatric clinic.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, 55 Fruit Street, Boston, MA 02114, USA.


Olfactory panic attacks have not been systematically assessed in a psychiatric population by any previous studies. Among Cambodian refugees attending a psychiatric clinic, the present investigation determines the following: (a) 1-month current prevalence of olfactory-triggered panic attacks, (b) associated psychopathology (Hopkins Symptom Checklist and the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV-diagnosed posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD]), and (c) frequency in events of olfactory panic of catastrophic cognitions (Panic Attack Cognitions Scale [PACQ]) and flashbacks (Clinician-Administered PTSD flashback scale). Forty-five percent of 100 consecutive psychiatric patients were found to have suffered an olfactory-triggered panic attack in the previous month; having current olfactory panic attacks was highly correlated with psychopathology (e.g., to PTSD diagnosis: and chi(2)=50.0; df=1; p<.001); and during olfactory-triggered panic attacks, catastrophic cognitions and flashbacks were common. Possible mechanisms for generation of high rates of olfactory-triggered panic attacks in this population are discussed (the "traumatic memory/catastrophic cognitions/interoceptive conditioning/escalating arousal" or "TCIE" model of panic generation) as are treatment implications.

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