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Heart-focused anxiety as a mediating variable in the treatment of noncardiac chest pain by cognitive-behavioral therapy and paroxetine.

Author(s): Spinhoven P, Van der Does AJ, Van Dijk E, Van Rood YR.

Affiliation(s): Institute of Psychology, Leiden University, Leiden, The Netherlands; Department of Psychiatry, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, The Netherlands. spinhoven@fsw.leidenuniv.nl

Publication date & source: 2010, J Psychosom Res. , 69(3):227-35

OBJECTIVE: We compared the efficacy of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), paroxetine and placebo in the treatment of noncardiac chest pain (NCCP). We also investigated whether pre- to mid-treatment reduction of (heart-focused) anxiety mediated mid- to post-treatment pain reduction. METHODS: Sixty-nine adults with NCCP were randomly assigned to 16 weeks of outpatient treatment with CBT, paroxetine or placebo. The comparison between placebo and paroxetine was carried out in a double-blind fashion. The main outcome measure was a chest pain index (duration*intensity) as derived from daily pain diaries. Putative mediator measures were general anxiety (HADS:A) and heart-focused anxiety (Cardiac Anxiety Questionnaire). RESULTS: Eleven patients treated with paroxetine or placebo dropped out prematurely. Intent-to-treat analysis showed that CBT was significantly superior to placebo and to paroxetine in reducing NCCP at posttreatment. Only CBT significantly reduced heart-focused anxiety compared to placebo at mid- and post-treatment. Pre- to mid-treatment reduction of heart-focused anxiety predicted mid- to post-treatment NCCP reduction. The indirect effect of CBT on pain reduction by reducing heart-focused anxiety was significant compared to placebo but not to paroxetine. CONCLUSION: CBT is an effective treatment option for patients with NCCP. Paroxetine is not more effective than placebo on the short term. Reduction of heart-focused anxiety by CBT seems to mediate subsequent reduction of NCCP compared to placebo. The results provide further support for cognitive-behavioral models of NCCP and point to the potential benefits of, in particular, cognitive-behavioral interventions to modify heart-focused anxiety.

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