An idiom of distress principally reported among Latinos from the Caribbean, but recognized among many Latin American and Latin Mediterranean groups. Commonly reported symptoms include uncontrollable shouting, attacks of crying, trembling, heat in the chest rising into the head, and verbal or physical aggression. Dissociative experiences, seizurelike or fainting episodes, and suicidal gestures are prominent in some attacks but absent in others. A general feature of an ataque de nervios is a sense of being out of control. Ataque de nervios frequently occur as a direct result of a stressful event relating to the family (e.g., news of the death of a close relative, a separation or divorce from a spouse, conflicts with a spouse or children, or witnessing an accident involving a family member). People may experience amnesia for what occurred during the ataque de nervios, but they otherwise return rapidly to their usual level of functioning. Although descriptions of some ataques de nervios most closely fit with the DSM-IV description of Panic Attacks, the association of most ataques with a precipitating event and the frequent absence of the hallmark symptoms of acute fear or apprehension distinguish them from Panic Disorder. Ataques span the range from normal expressions of distress not associated with having a mental disorder to symptom presentations associated with the diagnoses of Anxiety, Mood, Dissociative, or Somatoform Disorders.
Ataque de nervios ("attack of nerves") is a syndrome among individuals of Latino descent, characterize by symptoms of intense emotional upset, including acute anxiety, anger, or grief; screaming and shouting uncontrollably; attacks of crying; trembling; heat in the chest rising into the head; and becoming verbally and physically aggressive. Dissociative experiences (e.g., depersonalization, derealization, amnesia), seizure-like or fainting episodes, and suicidal gestures are prominent in some ataques but absent in others. A general featureof an ataque de nervios is a sense of being out of control. Attack frequently occur as a direct result of a stressful event relating to the family, such as news of the death of a close relative, conflicts with a spouse or children, or witnessing an accident involving a family member. For a minority of individuals, no particular social event triggers their ataques; instead, their vulnerability to losing control comes from the accumulated experience of suffering.
No one-to-one relationship has been found between ataque and any specific psychiatric disorder, although several disorders, including panic disorder, other specified or unspecified dissociative disorder, and conversion disorder, have symptomatic overlap with ataque.
In community samples, ataque is associated with suicidal ideation, disability, and outpatient psychiatric utilization, after adjustment for psychiatric diagnoses, traumatic exposure, and other covariates. However, some ataques represent normative expressions of acute distress (e.g., at a funeral) without clinical sequelae. The term ataque de nervios may also refer to an idiom of distress that includes any "fit"-like paroxysm of emotionally (e.g., hysterical laughing) and may be used to indicate an episode of loss of control in response to an intense stressor.
Related conditions in other cultural contexts
Indisposition in Haiti, blacking out in the Southern United States, and falling out in the West Indies.
Related conditions in DSM-5
Panic attack, panic disorder, other specified or unspecified dissociative disorder, conversion (functional neurologic symptom) disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, other specified or unspecified anxiety disorder, other specified or unspecified trauma and stressor-related disorder.