Although there is some evidence to suggest that there's a correlation between panic disorders and mitral valve prolapse (MVP), a common heart valve abnormality, there's no definitive proof linking the two health problems. The mitral valve is one of the heart's four valves and consists of two flaps that allow the flow of blood from the heart's left upper chamber (left atrium) and the left lower chamber (left ventricle).

When the mitral valve "prolapses," one or both of the flaps collapses upward or back into the atrium, allowing some blood to leak through the valve opening and possibly causing a heart murmur. Symptoms of MVP vary from heart palpitations, chest pain, fatigue, shortness of breath and anxiety to migraine headaches or there may be no symptoms at all.

Is There Any Link?

Because the symptoms associated with panic attacks are similar to those associated with cardiac problems (i.e.difficulty breathing, pounding heart, rapid heart beat, chest pain, dizziness or feeling faint and sweating), there have been attempts to show a relationship between the two disorders. Several years ago, a study by the Women's Health Initiative of postmenopausal women suggested that those who said they had had a panic attack within six months, had a three-fold risk of having a heart attack, heart-related death or stroke over the next five years. The study participants were asked two screening questions about experiencing a "sudden attack of feeling frightened, anxious or extremely uncomfortable" and a "sudden episode of rapid or irregular heartbeats." However, it's possible, say experts, that some of the women answering "yes" to the screening questions about panic attacks may have actually been experiencing undiagnosed heart problems.

A more recent study published in the European Heart Journal found that people younger than 50 who have been diagnosed with panic attacks have a greater risk of developing heart disease than their healthy counterparts, although the reasons are not understood.

If you suffer from panic attacks, you are not alone. According to the Mayo Clinic, it's estimated that between two million and six million Americans experience panic disorder, with more women than men diagnosed with the disorder each year. If you have symptoms of panic attacks, seek help from your physician. It's important to have a medical evaluation to rule out other serious health problems like heart disease.