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Psychiatry Res. 1988 Apr;24(1):95-107.

Autonomic changes after treatment of agoraphobia with panic attacks.

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VA Medical Center, Palo Alto, CA 94304.


Twenty-three patients meeting DSM-III criteria for agoraphobia with panic attacks and 14 age-, race-, and sex-matched nonanxious controls were tested in the laboratory and on a test walk in a shopping mall. The patients were tested before and after about 15 weeks of treatment with placebo and exposure therapy, imipramine and exposure therapy, or imipramine and initial antiexposure instructions. Controls were tested twice at a similar interval, but without any treatment. On test day 1, patients compared to controls showed higher average heart rate and skin conductance levels and greater numbers of skin conductance fluctuations in the laboratory, and higher heart rates before and during the test walk. Between pretreatment and posttreatment tests, clinical ratings improved and skin conductance levels decreased in all treatment groups. Heart rate levels in the laboratory, on the other hand, decreased in patients on placebo and rose in patients on imipramine. Thus, imipramine compromises the usefulness of heart rate as a measure of emotional arousal. Higher pretreatment heart rates predicted greater clinical improvement.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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