Effects of anxiety arousal and mental stress on the vestibulo-ocular reflex.
Yardley L., Watson S., Britton J., Lear S., Bird J.
Although the subjective reports of patients suggest that anxiety may aggravate vertigo and imbalance, there has been little research into how anxiety might directly affect balance system functioning. We conducted two studies to examine the effect of anxiety and arousal on the vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR). In the first study, pre-lest fear ratings were obtained from 20 normal subjects and 36 anxious subjects immediately prior to rotation and caloric testing. Fear ratings were significantly correlated with the maximum slow-phase velocity (SPV) of nystagmus induced by caloric testing. In the second study, we assessed the VOR response to rotation of 36 normal subjects under 3 task conditions: a) minimal alerting (counting backwards during rotation), b) physical arousal (induced by exertion prior to rotation); c) mental arousal (induced by performance of stressful mental tasks during rotation). Both the physical and mental tasks induced a significant increase in heart rate compared with the alerting condition. The maximum SPV of the nystagmus induced by rotation was significantly greater during performance of the mental task than in the other two conditions. These combined results indicate that anxiety may influence the gain of the VOR.