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J Affect Disord. 2007 Dec;104(1-3):197-201. Epub 2007 Apr 16.

Evaluation of diagnostic criteria for panic attack using item response theory: findings from the National Comorbidity Survey in USA.

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Nagoya Keizai University Junior College, Inuyama, Aichi, 480-8503 Japan.



The dichotomous diagnostic systems such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and International Classification of Diseases (ICD) lose much important information concerning what each symptom can offer. This study explored the characteristics and performances of DSM-IV and ICD-10 diagnostic criteria items for panic attack using modern item response theory (IRT).


The National Comorbidity Survey used the Composite International Diagnostic Interview to assess 14 DSM-IV and ICD-10 panic attack diagnostic criteria items in the general population in the USA. The dimensionality and measurement properties of these items were evaluated using dichotomous factor analysis and the two-parameter IRT model.


A total of 1213 respondents reported at least one subsyndromal or syndromal panic attack in their lifetime. Factor analysis indicated that all items constitute a unidimensional construct. The two-parameter IRT model produced meaningful and interpretable results. Among items with high discrimination parameters, the difficulty parameter for "palpitation" was relatively low, while those for "choking," "fear of dying" and "paresthesia" were relatively high. Several items including "dry mouth" and "fear of losing control" had low discrimination parameters.


The item characteristics of diagnostic criteria among help-seeking clinical populations may be different from those that we observed in the general population and deserve further examination.


"Paresthesia," "choking" and "fear of dying" can be thought to be good indicators of severe panic attacks, while "palpitation" can discriminate well between cases and non-cases at low level of panic attack severity. Items such as "dry mouth" would contribute less to the discrimination.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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