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Classic Conditioning and Dysfunctional Cognitions in Patients With Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia Treated With an Implantable Cardioverter/Defibrillator

Godemann, Frank MD; Ahrens, Bernd MD; Behrens, Steffen MD; Berthold, Rita; Gandor, Cornelia MD; Lampe, Felix MD, and; Linden, Michael MD

Special Issue: Comorbidity Studies

Objective: A model for the development of anxiety disorders (panic disorder with or without agoraphobia) is needed. Patients with an implantable cardioverter/defibrillator (ICD) are exposed to repeated electric shocks. If the theory of anxiety development by aversive classic conditioning processes is valid, these repeated shocks should lead to an increased risk of anxiety disorders. To study this hypothesis, we retrospectively studied 72 patients after implantation of an automatic ICD.

Methods: Patients were assessed with the semistructured Diagnostic Interview of Psychiatric Disease 1 to 6 years after implantation of an automatic ICD. Panic disorder and/or agoraphobia was diagnosed in patients who fulfilled all DSM-III-R criteria for those conditions.

Results: Anxiety disorder developed in 15.9% of patients after ICD implantation. This was significantly related to the frequency of repeated defibrillation (shocks) to stop malignant ventricular arrhythmias. Dysfunctional cognitions are an additional vulnerability factor.

Conclusions: The data support both the conditioning hypothesis and the cognitive model of anxiety development. These findings suggest that ICD patients are an appropriate risk population for a prospective study of the development of anxiety disorders.

From the Departments of Psychiatry (F.G., B.A., R.B., C.G., M.L.) and Cardiology (S.B., F.L.), Free University of Berlin, Berlin, Germany.

Address reprint request to: Dr. Frank Godemann, Hindenburgdamm 30, 12200 Berlin, Germany. Email: godemann@zedat.

Received for publication October 26, 1999; revision received June 30, 2000.

Copyright © 2001 by American Psychosomatic Society