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Previous studies of the dimensional structure of panic attack symptoms have mostly identified a respiratory and a vestibular/mixed somatic dimension. Evidence for additional dimensions such as a cardiac dimension and the allocation of several of the panic attack symptom criteria is less consistent. Clarifying the dimensional structure of the panic attack symptoms should help to specify the relationship of potential risk factors like anxiety sensitivity and fear of suffocation to the experience of panic attacks and the development of panic disorder.
In an outpatient multicentre study 350 panic patients with agoraphobia rated the intensity of each of the ten DSM-IV bodily symptoms during a typical panic attack. The factor structure of these data was investigated with nonlinear confirmatory factor analysis (CFA). The identified bodily symptom dimensions were related to panic cognitions, anxiety sensitivity and fear of suffocation by means of nonlinear structural equation modelling (SEM).
CFA indicated a respiratory, a vestibular/mixed somatic and a cardiac dimension of the bodily symptom criteria. These three factors were differentially associated with specific panic cognitions, different anxiety sensitivity facets and suffocation fear.
Taking into account the dimensional structure of panic attack symptoms may help to increase the specificity of the associations between the experience of panic attack symptoms and various panic related constructs.
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