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Keywords:

  • panic disorder;
  • agoraphobia;
  • familial aggregation;
  • cohort study, liability

Background

Controversy surrounds the question of whether agoraphobia (AG) exists as an independent diagnostic entity apart from panic. In favor of this position, AG without panic disorder (PD) in parents was found being unrelated to offsprings’ risk for AG or PD, albeit it may enhance the familial transmission of PD (Nocon et al., Depress Anxiety 2008;25:422–434). However, a recent behavioral genetic analysis (Mosing et al., Depress Anxiety 2009;26:1004–1011) found an increased risk for both PD and AG in siblings of those with AG without PD, casting doubt on whether AG exists independently of PD. Convincing evidence for either position notably requires considering also other anxiety disorders to establish the position of AG relative to the panic/anxiety spectrum.

Methods

Familial transmission of panic attacks (PAs), PD, and AG was examined in a 10-year prospective-longitudinal community study of 3,021 adolescents and young adults including completed direct and indirect information on parental psychopathology. Standardized diagnostic assessments using the Munich-Composite International Diagnostic Interview allowed generating exclusive diagnostic groups independent from diagnostic hierarchy rules.

Results

Parental PD without AG was associated with an increased risk for PA and PD+AG, but not for PD without AG or AG without PD in offspring. Parental AG without PD was unrelated to the offsprings’ risk for PA, exclusive PD or AG, or PD+AG. Findings were largely unaffected by adjustment for other offspring or parental anxiety disorders.

Conclusions

Findings provide further evidence for the independence of AG apart from the PD spectrum.