The Italian Almanac

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Italian Science - September 8

Italian researchers have identified a substance they believe is responsible for the panic attacks and bouts of anxiety that make sufferers' lives miserable. The substance in question is a hormone called aldosterone, similar in form to the body's growth hormone.

A team led by Nicoletta Sonino of Padua University studied a group of patients suffering from diseases that made them produce unusually large amounts of the hormone. "We found they had levels of anxiety statistically much higher than the general population". The patients also showed a cluster of symptoms that often go hand in hand with anxiety, such as low mood, irritability and obsessive-compulsive disorder, she added.

"Obviously this is just a preliminary trial and we need to do a much wider survey," Sonino said. "But our findings appear to hold out fresh hope for new treatments for panic attacks and generalised anxiety disorder".

Panic and anxiety attacks are sudden surges of overwhelming fear that come without warning or any obvious reason. They are far more intense than having anxiety or feelings of being 'stressed out' that many people complain of. One out of every 75 people worlwide will experience a panic attack at some point in their lives.