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Teaching teens to tame their thoughts. Approximately one in 100 teenagers between 14 and 17 have panic disorders, making this a major mental health problem for young people, according to CAS Assistant Research Professor of Psychology Sara Mattis, director of the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders' Adolescent Panic Treatment Program.

Panic disorder is characterized by sudden rushes of intense anxiety. Common physical symptoms include difficulty breathing, a rapid heartbeat, dizziness, and trembling. One problem in treating panic disorder is it may be initially misdiagnosed as a medical problem, such as an allergy or asthma, Mattis says.

Many teens with a panic disorder may begin to avoid certain situations, such as classrooms, public transportation, or being alone, fearing they may have another attack.

"Treatment can lead to a considerable improvement in a teenager's quality of life during this important period of development," says Mattis. "Our goal is to treat this disorder at its earliest possible stage, before they become adults."

The program's treatment helps adolescents recognize the signs of anxiety and avoidance and learn skills to cope with the physical sensations of panic, change their anxious thoughts, and face anxiety-provoking situations.

"Our first goal is to help the teenagers cope with the frightening physical aspects of panic," says Mattis. "Their hearts may race, they may shake, or think they are dying. We also teach them to identify and change their anxious thoughts."

As for the actual causes of these panic attacks, one theory is that vulnerability to them is genetic or biological. "Many of our young patients have parents with panic or another anxiety disorder," Mattis explains. "There also seems to be an oversensitivity to the physical sensations of anxiety."

Over the past few years, the child and adolescent program at the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders has treated more than 300 young people. The Center also treats young patients who have generalized anxiety, specific phobias, separation anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The Adolescent Panic Treatment Program is a free program sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health.

Rx for heart disease: exercise. According to a new report by Gary Balady, professor of medicine and director of preventive cardiology at the Boston University Medical Center, doctors should prescribe exercise to help prevent heart disease. The report also discusses exercise as a major component of treatment after a heart attack or cardiovascular surgery.

Balady and colleague Dr. Roy Shepard of the University of Toronto outlined several components of the exercise prescription, clarifying the definitions of "physical activity" and "fitness."

Balady also discusses the possible biological explanations of why physical activity may modify the risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including reductions in hypertension, diabetic symptoms, and excess weight.

"As with drug therapy, exercise requires a prescription," says Balady, "with the same consideration of appropriate dosage and possible side effects." Balady also points out that even for most sedentary people, "Any physical activity is better than none."

Assessments of the influence of frequency and intensity of exercise on health benefits were also included in the paper, reaffirming that even exercise of moderate intensity, done three to five times per week, can lead to marked improvements in peak fitness in patients with heart disease. Specific guidelines for medical screening and evaluation before initiating a moderate-to-vigorous exercise training program are provided to doctors in detail by the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine.

The article appeared in the February 23 issue of the American Heart Association journal, Circulation.

"Research Briefs" is written by Joan Schwartz in the Office of the Provost. To read more about BU research, visit


15 May 2003
Boston University
Office of University Relations