Emotional reactivity to a single inhalation of 35% carbon dioxide and its association with later symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder and anxiety in soldiers deployed to Iraq

Michael J Telch, David Rosenfield, Han-Joo Lee, Anushka Pai
Archives of General Psychiatry 2012, 69 (11): 1161-8

CONTEXT: The identification of modifiable predeployment vulnerability factors that increase the risk of combat stress reactions among soldiers once deployed to a war zone offers significant potential for the prevention of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other combat-related stress disorders. Adults with anxiety disorders display heightened emotional reactivity to a single inhalation of 35% carbon dioxide (CO(2)); however, data investigating prospective linkages between emotional reactivity to CO(2) and susceptibility to war-zone stress reactions are lacking.

OBJECTIVE: To investigate the association of soldiers' predeployment emotional reactivity to 35% CO(2) challenge with several indices of subsequent war-zone stress symptoms assessed monthly while deployed in Iraq.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: Prospective cohort study of 158 soldiers with no history of deployment to a war zone were recruited from the Texas Combat Stress Risk Study between April 2, 2007, and August 28, 2009.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Multilevel regression models were used to investigate the association between emotional reactivity to 35% CO(2) challenge (assessed before deployment) and soldiers' reported symptoms of general anxiety/stress, PTSD, and depression while deployed to Iraq.

RESULTS: Growth curves of PTSD, depression, and general anxiety/stress symptoms showed a significant curvilinear relationship during the 16-month deployment period. War-zone stressors reported in theater were associated with symptoms of general anxiety/stress, PTSD, and depression. Consistent with the prediction, soldiers' emotional reactivity to a single inhalation of 35% CO(2)-enriched air before deployment significantly potentiated the effects of war-zone stressors on the subsequent development of PTSD symptoms and general anxiety/stress symptoms but not on the development of depression, even after accounting for the effects of trait anxiety and the presence of past or current Axis I mental disorders.

CONCLUSION: Soldiers' emotional reactivity to a 35% CO(2) challenge may serve as a vulnerability factor for increasing soldiers' risk for PTSD and general anxiety/stress symptoms in response to war-zone stressors.

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