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Major depressive disorder (MDD) commonly co-occurs with clinically significant levels of anxiety. However, anxiety symptoms are varied and have been inconsistently associated with clinical, functional, and antidepressant treatment outcomes. We aimed to identify and characterise dimensions of anxiety in people with MDD and their use in predicting antidepressant treatment outcome.
1008 adults with a current diagnosis of single-episode or recurrent, nonpsychotic, MDD were assessed at baseline on clinical features and cognitive/physiological functioning. Participants were then randomised to one of three commonly prescribed antidepressants and reassessed at 8 weeks regarding symptom change, as well as remission and response, on the 17-item Hamilton Rating Scale Depression (HRSD17) and the 16-item Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology (QIDS-SR16). Exploratory factor analysis was used on items from scales assessing anxiety symptoms, and resulting factors were assessed against clinical features and cognitive/physiological functioning. Factors were also assessed on their ability to predict treatment outcome.
Three factors emerged relating to stress, cognitive anxiety, and somatic anxiety. All factors showed high internal consistency, minimal cross-loadings, and unique clinical and functional profiles. Furthermore, only higher somatic anxiety was associated with poorer QIDS-SR16 remission, even after adjusting for covariates and multiple comparisons.
Anxiety symptoms in people with MDD can be separated onto distinct factors that differentially respond to treatment outcome. Furthermore, these factors do not align with subscales of established measures of anxiety. Future research should consider cognitive and somatic symptoms of anxiety separately when assessing anxiety in MDD and their use in predicting treatment outcome.
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