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Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2011 Jul;21(7):516-25. doi: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2010.12.002. Epub 2011 Jan 26.

(Don't) panic in the scanner! How panic patients with agoraphobia experience a functional magnetic resonance imaging session.

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Institute of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, Department of Psychology, Technische Universität Dresden, Dresden, Germany.


Although functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has gained increasing importance in investigating neural substrates of anxiety disorders, less is known about the stress eliciting properties of the scanner environment itself. The aim of the study was to investigate feasibility, self-reported distress and anxiety management strategies during an fMRI experiment in a comprehensive sample of patients with panic disorder and agoraphobia (PD/AG). Within the national research network PANIC-NET, n=89 patients and n=90 controls participated in a multicenter fMRI study. Subjects completed a retrospective questionnaire on self-reported distress, including a habituation profile and exploratory questions about helpful strategies. Drop-out rates and fMRI quality parameters were employed as markers of study feasibility. Different anxiety measures were used to identify patients particularly vulnerable to increased scanner anxiety and impaired data quality. Three (3.5%) patients terminated the session prematurely. While drop-out rates were comparable for patients and controls, data quality was moderately impaired in patients. Distress was significantly elevated in patients compared to controls; claustrophobic anxiety was furthermore associated with pronounced distress and lower fMRI data quality in patients. Patients reported helpful strategies, including motivational factors and cognitive coping strategies. The feasibility of large-scale fMRI studies on PD/AG patients could be proved. Study designs should nevertheless acknowledge that the MRI setting may enhance stress reactions. Future studies are needed to investigate the relationship between self-reported distress and fMRI data in patient groups that are subject to neuroimaging research.

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