Visual height intolerance and acrophobia: distressing partners for lifeReport as inadecuate

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Journal of Neurology

, Volume 263, Issue 10, pp 1946–1953

First Online: 06 July 2016Received: 21 April 2016Revised: 23 June 2016Accepted: 23 June 2016


The course of illness, the degree of social impairment, and the rate of help-seeking behavior was evaluated in a sample of individuals with visual height intolerance vHI and acrophobia. On the basis of a previously described epidemiological sample representative of the German general population, 574 individuals with vHI were identified, 128 fulfilled the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria of acrophobia. The illness of the majority of all susceptible individuals with vHI ran a year-long chronic course. Two thirds were in the category -persistent-worse-, whereas only one third was in the category -improved-remitted-. Subjects with acrophobia showed significantly more traumatic triggers of onset, more signs of generalization to other height stimuli, higher rates of increasing intensity of symptom load, higher grades of social impairment, and greater overall negative impact on the quality of life than those with pure vHI. An unfavorable course of illness in pure vHI was predicted by major depression, agoraphobia, social phobia, posttraumatic stress, initial traumatic trigger, and female sex; an unfavorable course in acrophobia was predicted by major depression, chronic fatigue, panic attacks, initial traumatic trigger, social phobia, other specific phobic fears, and female sex. Help-seeking behavior was astonishingly low in the overall sample of individuals with vHI. The consequences of therapeutic interventions if complied with at all were quite modest. In adults pure vHI and even more so acrophobia are by no means only transitionally distressing states. In contrast to their occurrence in children they are more often persisting and disabling conditions. Both the utilization of and adequacy of treatment of these illnesses pose major challenges within primary and secondary neurological and psychiatric medical care.

KeywordsVisual height intolerance Acrophobia Course Social impairment Help-seeking behavior  Download fulltext PDF

Author: Hans-Peter Kapfhammer - Werner Fitz - Doreen Huppert - Eva Grill - Thomas Brandt


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