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December 1989

Somatic Manifestations in Women With Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Psychophysiological Responses to Psychological Stress

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Md.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1989;46(12):1113-1119. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1989.01810120055009

• Generalized anxiety disorder is associated with symptoms that suggest heightened muscular tension and autonomic arousal. Since self-reports of physiological states in patients with anxiety disorder are frequently unreliable, we compared 20 female patients with generalized anxiety disorder with a matched group of nonanxious controls on a battery of psychophysiological assessments (skin conductance, heart interbeat interval, blood pressure, respiration, and forehead and gastrocnemius electromyographic activity). We found that during baseline patients with generalized anxiety disorder differed from controls on electromyographic, but not on autonomic, measures. During psychological stress tasks, patients with generalized anxiety disorder showed a weaker mean skin conductance response with a narrower range in both skin conductance and heart rate than controls. These findings suggest that sympathetic inhibition, rather than enhancement, occurs in patients with generalized anxiety disorder during performance stress.

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