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The catastrophic misinterpretation of physiological distress

, : The catastrophic misinterpretation of physiological distress. Behaviour Research & Therapy 37(11): 1105-1118, Nov

Cognitive theories of panic disorder suggest that the catastrophic misinterpretation of bodily sensations is the trigger for a panic attack. A challenge to cognitive theories is the suggestion that dyspnea (shortness of breath) is central to the development of panic and that negative cognitions are by-products of panic. To examine these seemingly contradictory theoretical perspectives, the present study investigated panic symptomatology in a sample of patients with chronic shortness of breath (i.e. pulmonary patients). Past studies have shown an increased prevalence of panic in pulmonary patients, a finding that may be useful in elucidating panic etiology. The current sample of pulmonary patients (N = 28) confirmed previous reports of high prevalence rates of panic in this population. Based on self-report of panic symptomatology, a total of nine patients (32%) met DSM-IV criteria that were consistent with panic disorder. Multivariate comparison of participants with and without panic symptomatology revealed that panickers had significantly higher levels of anxiety, depression and agoraphobic cognitions. However, these groups showed no significant differences on physiological measures of pulmonary functioning. The authors conclude that dyspnea alone is inadequate in predicting panic development. High levels of panic symptomatology in pulmonary samples may reflect increased opportunities for these patients to misinterpret bodily sensations and, in particular, their pulmonary symptoms.


PMID: 10500323

DOI: 10.1016/s0005-7967(98)00197-1

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