Carbon dioxide inhalation as a human experimental model of panic: The relationship between emotions and cardiovascular physiology

Nicole K. Leibold*, Wolfgang Viechtbauer, Liesbet Goossens, Klara De Cort, Eric J. Griez, Inez Myin-Germeys, Harry W. M. Steinbusch, Daniel L. A. van den Hove, Koen R. J. Schruers

*Corresponding author for this work

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Inhaling carbon dioxide (CO2)-enriched air induces fear and panic symptoms resembling real-life panic attacks, the hallmark of panic disorder. The present study aimed to describe the emotional and cardiovascular effects evoked by inhaling CO2, taking shortcomings of previous studies into account. Healthy volunteers underwent a double inhalation of 0, 9, 17.5, and 35% CO2, according to a randomized, cross-over design. In addition to fear, discomfort, and panic symptom ratings, blood pressure and heart rate were continuously monitored. Results showed a dose-dependent increase in all self-reports. Systolic and diastolic blood pressure rose with increasing CO2 concentration, whereas heart rate results were less consistent. Diastolic blood pressure and heart rate variation correlated with fear and discomfort. Based on this relationship and the observation that the diastolic blood pressure most accurately mimicked the degree of self-reported emotions, it might serve as a putative biomarker to assess the CO2-reactivity in the future.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)331-340
JournalBiological Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013


  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • CO2
  • Blood pressure
  • Heart rate

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