Puerto Rico Syndrome Or Panic Attack? What Is It?

Last Update on October 23, 2023 : Published on January 26, 2023
Puerto Rico Syndrome Or Panic Attack

Puerto Rico Syndrome is a psychiatric condition often seen in Latin people. The syndrome has been given many names including Puerto Rican Syndrome and Ataque-de-nervios. These names come from how culturally bound this condition is.

It was first seen in the Puerto Rican soldiers in the early 1950s. Because of the stress the Puerto Ricans were going through at that time, many people started showing dramatic symptoms of pseudo-epilepsy.

These people showed symptoms like screaming, biting, kicking, seizures, intensive shaking & shivering, etc. Initially, the doctors believed it was a sign of a neurological condition but could not find any physical evidence for it.

After having so many Puerto Ricans experience these symptoms, mental health professionals decided to call it the Puerto Rico Syndrome. They also noticed that this syndrome looked very similar to a panic attack but was completely different from it.

Let’s explore Puerto Rican syndrome and understand it better…

What Is Puerto Rico Syndrome?

Puerto Rico Syndrome is a culture-bound condition that is marked by physical symptoms very similar to a panic attack. However, that syndrome is different from a panic disorder.  It is also known as Ataque-de-nervios which translates into “attack of nerves”.

Puerto Rico Syndrome is said to be exclusive to the Latino culture, specific to the Caribbean region. According to some surveys, the Puerto Rican syndrome was most commonly found in women however a significant amount of men showed the symptoms too.

Initially, the healthcare providers could not understand the cause behind these panic-like symptoms. However, as they began examining and studying more cases, it was found there was extreme cultural stress and unrest which might have been leading to Puerto Rico Syndrome.

Symptoms Of Puerto Rico Syndrome

Since Puerto Rico syndrome is a type of stress response, its characteristics can be different in different people. It includes a lot of symptoms similar to anxiety, stress, and panic responses, let’s have a look at some;

  • Constant feelings of intense fear
  • Inability to move
  • Uncontrollable crying & screaming
  • Hot flashes especially from chest to head
  • Physical aggression
  • Lashing out at others or indulging in verbal attacks
  • Increased heart rate
  • Tightness in chest

How Is Puerto Rico Syndrome Different From A Panic Attack?

Panic Attack

If you look at both conditions from afar, they might look identical. Ataque de nervios, the attack of nerves can make you react in a way that looks so similar to a panic attack that many people misunderstand the reaction.

In the case of panic disorder or a panic attack stress and anxiety is the sole cause of nervous stress response. However, in  Puerto Rico Syndrome the feelings of fear and anxiety are not that intense when the syndrome occurs. In panic disorder feelings of anxiety, stress, and fear are heightened when the attack takes place.

A panic attack can also be triggered by stressful situations, particularly the ones they have a problematic history. When we talk about Puerto Rico Syndrome any random situation can act as a trigger, their stress response can occur in even virtual situations.

Treatment For Puerto Rico Syndrome

The fact that Puerto Rico Syndrome is very similar to a panic attack, the treatment procedure is almost similar. The difference between Puerto Rico syndrome and panic attack is in the cause and triggers but the response is almost similar.

In most cases, cognitive behavioral therapy is said to work best for Puerto Rico syndrome. There are a lot of negative thoughts that cognitive behavioral therapy can help you identify and replace with productive thoughts.

According to research, it was found people who experience Puerto Rico Syndrome have some suppressed anger. Now this suppressed anger when combined with your negative thoughts is responsible for aggravated stress response.

Therefore, treating these issues is also important. In Puerto Rico Syndromes there is a psychosomatic tendency as well. Your treatment will encircle and address all these symptoms through psychotherapy and some clinical drugs like antianxiety can be prescribed to manage your fear and anxiety.

That’s All Folks!

I hope you found this blog about Puerto Rico Syndrome helpful, interesting and informative. Do share this blog with your friends and family so that we can all be aware of such culturally-bound psychiatric conditions.

Thanks for reading.

Take care and stay safe.

About The Author

Suramya Kaushal
Suramya Kaushal

Suramya Kaushal is a Psychologist and a certified REBT & Solution Based counselling practitioner. She Has Masters in Clinical Psychology. She has been providing counselling for Anxiety, Stress management, family and relationship counselling.

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