Ataque de Nervios (Attack of the Nerves) in the Caribbean

Ataque de nervios is a culture-bound syndrome (CBS) that resembles an extreme panic attack.  This CBS is found mostly in Spanish-speaking areas of the Caribbean.  The symptoms of ataque de nervios may include, “impulsive, dramatic behaviors such as screaming uncontrollably, crying, trembling and nervousness, anger and violence, and breaking things.”  Ataque is most commonly found in women, people over forty-five, people who experienced traumatic events in their lives, or people with a preexisting psychiatric disorder.  In fact, “individuals with ataque were 4.35 times more likely to have a psychiatric disorder than individuals without ataque.”  Unfortunately, many people who have experienced ataque de nervios have experienced a physical and/or sexual trauma at some time during their childhood.  When I read the descriptions of the people who claim to have ataque, and the symptoms that accompany the syndrome, all I could think was that this particular CBS resembles a type of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  The symptoms of ataque are so similar to those of a panic disorder that a study was done in order to determine their overlap.  The conclusion was that ataque de nervios was a more inclusive description of panic disorder.  The study also noted that eighty percent of the people who reported having at least one ataque de nervios were women.  Not much is known about ataque de nervios, but doctors are being told to prescribe treatment plans based on the individual patients’ life challenges.  As of right now, it seems as though doctors are probably treating ataque in the same way that they would treat a person with routine panic attacks.  Since this is a culture-bound syndrome, I believe that it is very possible that ataque is actually not a syndrome of its own, but it is in fact another panic disorder which locals may have not been able to properly categorize at the time.


Joseph D. Hovey, “Culture-Bound Syndromes: Ataque de Nervios,” in Encyclopedia of Multicultural Psychology, ed. Yo Jackson (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Reference, 2006), 133,

Michael R. Liebowitz et al., “Ataque de Nervios and Panic Disorder,” The American Journal of Psychiatry 151, no. 6 (June 1994): 871–75.

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  1. Morgan Barnett says:

    Culture to me is a representative group of customs (non-material) and art (material) that reveal history or truths of a group of people in a society. Based on the definition from lecture, ataque de nervios seems like a legitimate culturally bound disorder. Ataque fits the criteria given in the lecture. It is a locally specific illness in the Caribbean. An advantage to ataque being regarded as a CBS is that locals will get some sort of therapy for it, whether drug or otherwise. A disadvantages that it seems like something deeper than many other culturally bound syndromes since many times it is associated with physical and/or sexual abuse. Regarding it as merely a CBS may not give the individual the psychotherapy that he or she may need. I agree with the statement that ataque de nervios resembles posttraumatic stress disorder. PTSD is most commonly seen in the United States in war veterans, but may appear elsewhere as well. There is also an interesting gender association in the Caribbean as the CBS is most often seen in females. In the United States, most who suffer from PTSD are males. Nevertheless, PTSD in the United States is seen as a serious disorder that is dealt with medically and emotionally.

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