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, http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CCX3470000072&v=2.1&u=msu_main&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w&asid=bf05fc147b83326c836a908b56a9f9f8.
Michael R. Liebowitz et al., “Ataque de Nervios and Panic Disorder,” The American Journal of Psychiatry 151, no. 6 (June 1994): 871–75.