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Fear of suffocation alters respiration during obstructed breathing


  • The authors thank Rob Stroobants, Marc Bennet, Jef Vandecruys, and Goedele Vandersloten for their assistance in the data collection, data analyses and proofreading.

Address correspondence to: Ilse Van Diest, Department of Psychology, University of Leuven, Tiensestraat 102, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium. E-mail:


We aimed to investigate whether fear of suffocation predicts healthy persons' respiratory and affective responses to obstructed breathing as evoked by inspiratory resistive loads. Participants (N = 27 women, ages between 18 and 21 years) completed the Fear of Suffocation scale and underwent 16 trials in which an inspiratory resistive load of 15 cmH2O/l/s (small) or 40 cmH2O/l/s (large) was added to the breathing circuit for 40 s. Fear of suffocation was associated with higher arousal ratings for both loads. Loaded breathing was associated with a decrease in minute ventilation, but progressively less so for participants scoring higher on fear of suffocation when breathing against the large load. The present findings document a potentially panicogenic mechanism that may maintain and worsen respiratory discomfort in persons with fear of suffocation.