Comparative phenomenology of ataques de nervios, panic attacks, and panic disorder

Roberto Lewis-Fernández, Peter J. Guarnaccia, Igda E. Martínez, Ester Salmán, Andrew Schmidt, Michael Liebowitz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


This article examines a clinical sample of 66 Dominican and Puerto Rican subjects who reported ataques de nervios and also psychiatric disorder, and disentangles the phenomenological experiences of ataque de nervios, panic attacks, and panic disorder. In-depth cultural interviews assessed the symptomatic phenomenology of ataque episodes from the local perspective as well as in terms of key panic features, such as recurrence, rapid peaking of symptoms, and lack of provocation. Independent diagnostic assessments of panic attacks and disorder were also used to establish the phenomenological overlap between ataque and panic. Our findings indicate that 36 percent of ataques de nervios fulfill criteria for panic attacks and between 17 percent and 33 percent for panic disorder, depending on the overlap method used. The main features distinguishing ataques that fulfill panic criteria from ataques that do not include whether the episodes were provoked by an upsetting event in the person's life and the rapidity of crescendo of the actual attack. A key finding is that ataques often share individual phenomenological features with panic episodes, but that these features usually do not "run together" during the ataque experience. This confirms previous findings that ataque is a more inclusive construct than panic disorder. The importance of these findings for the clinical diagnosis and treatment of persons with ataques is discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)199-223
Number of pages25
JournalCulture, Medicine and Psychiatry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2002


  • Ataque de nervios
  • Cultural psychiatry
  • Latinos
  • Panic disorder
  • Popular syndromes
  • Psychiatric phenomenology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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