Background: Heightened autonomic arousal symptoms (AAS) are assumed to be a central feature of anxiety disorders. However, it is unclear whether the magnitude and profile of AAS vary across anxiety disorders and whether heightened AAS characterises obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Aims We sought to determine whether the intensity and structure of AAS varied across anxiety disorders and OCD. Method: A sample of 459 individuals with a primary anxiety disorder or OCD were administered the Symptom Checklist-90R. Nine items referring to prototypic AAS were included in a latent class analysis. Results: A 2-class solution (high and low AAS classes) best fitted the data. Participants comprising the high AAS class scored uniformly high across all assessed AAS symptoms. Older age and the presence of panic disorder, social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder predicted membership in the high AAS class. No OCD symptom dimension was significantly associated with membership in the high AAS class. Limitation: AAS were assessed using a self-report measure and replication is needed using other methodologies. Conclusions: These findings suggest that OCD may be sufficiently distinct from anxiety disorders and do not support subtyping of anxiety disorders on the basis of the predominant type of AAS. Therapeutic approaches that target AAS might best be applied in the treatment of panic disorder, social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.
- autonomic arousal
- sympathetic nervous system
- anxiety disorders
- obsessive-compulsive disorder