A number of studies have shown that patients with panic disorder are more likely to have panic attacks during carbon dioxide inhalation than are normal comparison subjects. Some studies have shown that antipanic medications can reduce the anxiogenic response to carbon dioxide, but none have shown if this is the case for cognitive behavioral therapy or if successful treatment reduces the respiratory physiologic response to carbon dioxide.
Twenty-five patients with panic disorder and 13 normal comparison subjects underwent baseline testing with 5% and 7% carbon dioxide inhalation. The patients were then retested after at least 12 weeks of treatment with either antipanic medication or cognitive behavioral therapy. Comparison subjects were retested after a similar interval.
Successful treatment resulted in lower panic rates, and reduced anxiogenic response. Treatment had no effect, however, on the respiratory physiologic response.
There is dissociation in treatment response between the subjective and objective responses to carbon dioxide inhalation in panic disorder patients, with the former but not the latter showing positive change. We hypothesize that the strengthening of higher cortical control over subcortical fear-related structures, whether via medication or cognitive behavioral therapy treatment, results in less anxiety and fear in response to provoked symptoms reminiscent of naturally occurring panic.
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Accepted: August 9, 2004
Received in revised form: July 27, 2004
Received: March 3, 2004
© 2004 Society of Biological Psychiatry. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.