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Psychiatry Res. 1990 Feb;31(2):193-9.

Specific sensitivity of patients with panic attacks to carbon dioxide inhalation.

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  • 1Academic Anxiety Center, Vijverdal Mental Hospital, State University of Maastricht, The Netherlands.


One inhalation of 35% CO2 in oxygen was administered to 36 patients with anxiety disorders and 14 healthy controls. Eighteen patients had a diagnosis of panic disorder (PD) and 18 of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). As a placebo control for CO2, compressed air was administered in a double-blind design. Immediately before and after the inhalation, levels of anxiety and DSM-III-R symptoms of panic were assessed. CO2 elicited high levels of subjective anxiety in the PD group. Patients with OCD were hardly affected by the inhalation, and did not differ from healthy controls. These results suggest that CO2 challenge should be considered as a specific probe for subjects with panic-anxiety. It is speculated that CO2 may trigger some as yet undefined mechanisms, possibly linked to ventilation control, which demarcate panic from other types of pathological anxiety.

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