The relationship between obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety disorders: A question of diagnostic boundaries or simply severity of symptoms?

P. Vigne, Bruno F.T. Simões, Gabriela B. de Menezes, Pedro P. Fortes, Rafaela V. Dias, Luana D. Laurito, Carla P. Loureiro, Maria Eduarda Moreira-de-Oliveira, Lucy Albertella, Rico S.C. Lee, Ulrich Stangier, Leonardo F. Fontenelle

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3 Citations (Scopus)


Background: A growing number of studies are questioning the validity of current DSM diagnoses, either as “discrete” or distinct mental disorders and/or as phenotypically homogeneous syndromes. In this study, we investigated how symptom domains in patients with a main diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder (PD) and social anxiety disorder (SAD) coaggregate. We predicted that symptom domains would be unrelated to DSM diagnostic categories and less likely to cluster with each other as severity increases. Methods: One-hundred eight treatment seeking patients with a main diagnosis of OCD, SAD or PD were assessed with the Dimensional Obsessive-Compulsive Scale (DOCS), the Social Phobia Inventory (SPIN), the Panic and Agoraphobia Scale (PAS), the Anxiety Sensitivity Index-Revised (ASI-R), and the Beck Depression and Anxiety Inventories (BDI and BAI, respectively). Subscores generated by each scale (herein termed “symptom domains”) were used to categorize individuals into mild, moderate and severe subgroups through K-means clusterization and subsequently analysed by means of multiple correspondence analysis. Results: Broadly, we observed that symptom domains of OCD, SAD or PD tend to cluster on the basis of their severities rather than their DSM diagnostic labels. In particular, symptom domains and disorders were grouped into (1) a single mild “neurotic” syndrome characterized by multiple, closely related and co-occurring mild symptom domains; (2) two moderate (complicated and uncomplicated) “neurotic” syndromes (the former associated with panic disorder); and (3) severe but dispersed “neurotic” symptom domains. Conclusion: Our findings suggest that symptoms domains of treatment seeking patients with OCD and anxiety disorders tend to be better conceptualized in terms of severity rather than rigid diagnostic boundaries.

Original languageEnglish
Article number152116
Number of pages6
JournalComprehensive Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019


  • Anxiety sensitivity
  • General neurotic syndrome
  • Neuroticism
  • Obsessive–compulsive disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Severity of symptoms
  • Social anxiety disorder

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