Monday 25 September 2017

Anxiety prevention meta-analysed and some implications...

"Psychological and/or educational interventions had a small but statistically significant benefit for anxiety prevention in all populations evaluated. Although more studies with larger samples and active comparators are needed, these findings suggest that anxiety prevention programs should be further developed and implemented."

That was the research bottom-line published by Patricia Moreno-Peral and colleagues [1] assessing the collected peer-reviewed literature pertinent to the question: "Are psychological and/or educational preventive interventions for anxiety effective in varied populations?" An accompanying editorial on the Moreno-Peral findings is also worthwhile reading [2].

The methodological name of the game was systematic review and meta-analysis followed by "meta-regression" to boil down data from some 29 studies examining whether "psychological and/or educational interventions are effective in the prevention of anxiety." Said interventions covered some ground but in the most part relied on the use of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

I'm not going to say too much more about the Moreno-Peral findings because I think they speak for themselves. I do however want to make comment on the authors' use of the term 'varied populations' to highlight potential implications for a couple of populations pertinent to this blog: (a) the autism spectrum and (b) those diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME).

Starting with autism, there are two salient points to make: (i) anxiety is pretty rife in relation to autism (see here and see here) and (ii) treating anxiety in relation to autism already has some peer-reviewed science efforts (see here) but little so far has seemingly been done on the point of potentially heading-off clinically relevant anxiety before it takes hold. I say this mindful of the idea that core symptoms linked to autism might be potential 'anxiety-provokers' (see here). Quite a bit more research is needed to ensure that psychological and/or educational interventions for anxiety currently available are specifically tailored to the wants and needs of those on the autism spectrum (including all of the spectrum!) but this area promises quite a bit. It's also worth appreciating that there may be a place for other types of prevention/intervention when it comes to anxiety (see here for example) in the context of autism (see here).

I also mentioned the [careful] application of the Moreno-Peral findings to CFS/ME. Coincidentally at the time of writing this post, I stumbled across the paper by Sarah Stoll and colleagues [3] asking: 'What treatments work for anxiety in children with chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME)?' The answer, based on the available literature is 'we don't know yet' with the requirement for more investigations.

I tread very carefully in this area based on the fact that whilst anxiety does seem to be part and parcel of some CFS/ME (see here), suggestions about the possible usefulness of something like CBT to manage anxiety have to viewed in the context of CBT still courting controversy as part of the biopsychosocial 'view' of CFS/ME (see here) (something that is relevant to other recent discussions about CFS/ME). Indeed, one might see the Stoll findings in the context that the 'failure' of interventions like CBT in relation to treating core CFS/ME (see here for what I mean by 'failure') is moving some people along to still try and stick with CBT but re-do and re-apply it in the context of treating more peripheral signs and symptoms accompanying CFS/ME such as anxiety. I might be wrong but...

To close, but keeping the CFS/ME link in mind, I once again note a welcomed U-turn from NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) on the topic of CFS/ME: "The strong message from stakeholders was that the continuing debate about the causes of this condition and the best approach to treatment argued for a review of the current guideline." I've said it before and will say it again: patient-power has driven this reconsideration (see here)...


[1] Moreno-Peral P. et al. Effectiveness of Psychological and/or Educational Interventions in the Prevention of Anxiety. JAMA Psychiatry. 2017. Sept 6.

[2] Hudson JL. Prevention of Anxiety Disorders Across the Lifespan. JAMA Psychiatry. 2017. Sept 6.

[3] Stoll SVE. et al. What treatments work for anxiety in children with chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME)? Systematic review. BMJ Open. 2017; 7: e015481.


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