Quick Test May Determine the Best Treatment for Anxiety

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Anxiety disorders can be difficult to treat, and for some people, it can take months of treatment before symptoms begin to improve. Now, a small study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago suggests a quick test performed in the doctor’s office can help determine whether antidepressant medication or cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) will likely be more effective for a patient with anxiety.

The study involved 60 adults with anxiety disorders and 26 people with no history of mental health problems. Study participants completed a task requiring them to quickly and accurately indicate the direction of a center arrow within a string of arrows on a computer screen. While a subject completed this task - which increased in pace over time, resulting in a higher likelihood of mistakes - the researchers performed an electroencephalography (EEG) to measure error-related negativity – higher electrical activity in the brain in response to committing an error. Error-related negativity is associated with greater anxiety symptoms. The participants were then given either anti-anxiety medication (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, SSRIs) or CBT, a type of psychotherapy, for 12 weeks and the test was repeated.

According to the researchers, higher error-related negativity at the beginning of treatment was associated with a greater reduction of anxiety symptoms in those who had psychotherapy, but not in those who received medication. Participants who were given SSRIs experienced even higher error-related negativity at the end of the study period. The researchers concluded that anxious people who have high error-related negativity measurements experience better results with CBT than with anti-anxiety medication.

Source: University of Illinois at Chicago