Autonomic characteristics of nonclinical panic and blood phobia

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      Autonomic characteristics of nonclinical panic and blood phobia were compared using spectral analysis of the electrocardiogram (EKG), as well as more conventional cardiovascular measures. The cardiovascular responses of 11 subjects who reported recent occureence of frequent severe panic attacks, and 10 subjects who reported intense somatic reactions to the sight of blood (including episodes of syncope) were recorded during a variety of laboratory tasks (quiet rest, reaction time/shock avoidance, face immersion, and combined reaction time/face immersion). Results suggest distinct autonomic patterns in the groups. Panickers showed (a) higher heart rate and reduced heart-rate variability (b) aberrant associations among cardiovascular measures, and (c) dominant sympathetic control of heart rate coupled with diminished vagal tone. Blood phobics generally displayed an opposite pattern. The relevance of these findings to the etiology of panic and blood phobia, as well as to biological models of anxiety disorders in general, is discussed.


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