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. 2006;16(4-5):209-15.

Vestibulo-ocular Function in Anxiety Disorders

  • PMID: 17538210

Vestibulo-ocular Function in Anxiety Disorders

Joseph M Furman et al. J Vestib Res. .


Previous studies of vestibulo-ocular function in patients with anxiety disorders have suggested a higher prevalence of peripheral vestibular dysfunction compared to control populations, especially in panic disorder with agoraphobia. Also, our recent companion studies have indicated abnormalities in postural control in patients with anxiety disorders who report a high degree of space and motion discomfort. The aim of the present study was to assess the VOR, including the semicircular canal-ocular reflex, the otolith-ocular reflex, and semicircular canal-otolith interaction, in a well-defined group of patients with anxiety disorders. The study included 72 patients with anxiety disorders (age 30.6 +/- 10.6 yrs; 60 (83.3% F) and 29 psychiatrically normal controls (age 35.0 +/minus; 11.6 yrs; 24 (82.8% F). 25 patients had panic disorder; 47 patients had non-panic anxiety. Patients were further categorized based on the presence (45 of 72) or absence (27 of 72) of height phobia and the presence (27 of 72) or absence (45 of 72) of excessive space and motion discomfort (SMD). Sinusoidal and constant velocity earth-vertical axis rotation (EVAR) was used to assess the semicircular canal-ocular reflex. Constant velocity off-vertical axis rotation (OVAR) was used to assess both the otolith-ocular reflex and static semicircular canal-otolith interaction. Sinusoidal OVAR was used to assess dynamic semicircular canal-otolith interaction. The eye movement response to rotation was measured using bitemporal electro-oculography. Results showed a significantly higher VOR gain and a significantly shorter VOR time constant in anxiety patients. The effect of anxiety on VOR gain was significantly greater in patients without SMD as compared to those with SMD. Anxiety patients without height phobia had a larger OVAR modulation. We postulate that in patients with anxiety, there is increased vestibular sensitivity and impaired velocity storage. Excessive SMD and height phobia seem to have a mitigating effect on abnormal vestibular sensitivity, possibly via a down-weighting of central vestibular pathways.

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