Edinburgh, Scotland Preliminary research suggests an unusual genetic abnormality may be linked to panic attacks and phobias.
A Spanish scientist reported Sunday at a meeting of the Human Genome Organization that among a random sample of people with anxiety disorders, 97 percent had a duplication of genetic material on chromosome 15 compared with 7 percent in a comparison group of healthy people.
Experts say the finding could lead to better drugs for the condition, which afflicts about 10 to 20 percent of the population.
Researchers also say Dr. Xavier Estevill, head of medical and molecular genetics at the Duran i Rynals Hospital in Barcelona, appears to have uncovered a new genetic mechanism for causing disease.
Estevill first studied 140 people from various families in a Spanish village who suffered from either social phobia, fear of open spaces or recurrent panic attacks. He then examined 70 unconnected people with the psychiatric problem and a comparison group of 189 people with no anxiety disorders.
He found that almost 100 percent of those with panic or phobias in the family group had the duplication of genetic material on chromosome 15. Sixty-eight of the 70 in the non-family category, or 97 percent, had the abnormality, compared with only 14 of the 189 healthy people, or 7 percent.