The DSM-V is proposing a new category of anxiety disorders that would include social anxiety, generalized anxiety (GAD), panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), posttraumatic stress (PTSD), social phobia, and agoraphobia. These would be identified as fear circuitry disorders. Existing research has demonstrated that fear circuitry dysfunction may be the result of how a person responds to a traumatic event. Studies have indicated that individuals who have a highly negative reaction to trauma are at heightened risk for psychological problems, including panic. One of the measures used to assess response is heart rate (HR). To better understand this, Richard A. Bryant, a professor at the School of Psychology and Faculty of Science at the University of new South Wales in Australia, conducted a study assessing the HR of individuals who were exposed to trauma.
For his study, Bryant evaluated 528 adults admitted to trauma centers. He reviewed their HRs at time of admission and 30 days and 90 days later. Bryant assessed the participants for levels of PTSD, anxiety, GAD, OCD, panic, social phobia, agoraphobia. and depression. He found that at 90 days posttrauma, 15% of the participants had developed a fear circuitry impairment, and 17% had developed other mental health problems. The results showed that the individuals who had an increased HR upon admission to the trauma center were most likely to develop a problem related to anxiety, including PTSD, agoraphobia, panic disorder, or social phobia. However, those with high HRs at the time of trauma were not at increased risk for depression.
This study is among the first to reveal a possible link between elevated response to trauma as measured by HR and the possible onset of fear circuitry impairment. Bryant pointed out that more research needs to be done in this area to identify which individuals would be most likely to have difficulty with fear response, regardless of whether or not they survived a traumatic experience. Additionally, Bryant believes future studies should address if elevated HR response is an accurate predictor of vulnerability in individuals who are already genetically predisposed to anxiety issues. He also thinks that environmental factors should be considered in future research. Bryant added, “Nonetheless, the finding of elevated HR in those who develop fear circuitry disorders is consistent with fear conditioning being one possible mechanism by which individuals may develop this group of anxiety disorders.”
Bryant, RA, Creamer, M., O’Donnell, M., Silove, D., McFarlane, A.C. Heart Rate After Trauma and the Specificity of Fear Circuitry Disorders. Psychological Medicine41.12 (2011): 2573-580. Print.
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