Understanding the Connection Between Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms and Respiratory Problems: Contributions of Anxiety Sensitivity

Brittain L. Mahaffey, Adam Gonzalez, Samantha G. Farris, Michael J. Zvolensky, Evelyn J. Bromet, Benjamin J. Luft, Roman Kotov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Respiratory problems and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are the signature health consequences associated with the September 11, 2001 (9/11), World Trade Center disaster and frequently co-occur. The reasons for this comorbidity, however, remain unknown. Anxiety sensitivity is a transdiagnostic trait that is associated with both PTSD and respiratory symptoms. The present study explored whether anxiety sensitivity could explain the experience of respiratory symptoms in trauma-exposed smokers with PTSD symptoms. Participants (N = 135; Mage = 49.18 years, SD = 10.01) were 9/11-exposed daily smokers. Cross-sectional self-report measures were used to assess PTSD symptoms, anxiety sensitivity, and respiratory symptoms. After controlling for covariates and PTSD symptoms, anxiety sensitivity accounted for significant additional variance in respiratory symptoms (ΔR2 =.04 to.08). This effect was specific to the somatic concerns dimension (β =.29, p =.020); somatic concerns contributed significantly to accounting for the overlap between PTSD and respiratory symptoms, b = 0.03, 95% CI [0.01, 0.07]. These findings suggest that the somatic dimension of anxiety sensitivity is important in understanding respiratory symptoms in individuals with PTSD symptoms. These findings also suggest that it may be critical to address anxiety sensitivity when treating patients with comorbid respiratory problems and PTSD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)71-79
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Traumatic Stress
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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