A clinical staging approach to improving diagnostics in anxiety disorders: Is it the way to go?

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Background: Clinical staging is a paradigm in which stages of disease progression are identified; these, in turn, have prognostic value. A staging model that enables the prediction of long-term course in anxiety disorders is currently unavailable but much needed as course trajectories are highly heterogenic. This study therefore tailored a heuristic staging model to anxiety disorders and assessed its validity. Methods: A clinical staging model was tailored to anxiety disorders, distinguishing nine stages of disease progression varying from subclinical stages (0, 1A, 1B) to clinical stages (2A–4B). At-risk subjects and subjects with anxiety disorders (n = 2352) from the longitudinal Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety were assigned to these nine stages. The model’s validity was assessed by comparing baseline (construct validity) and 2-year, 4-year and 6-year follow-up (predictive validity) differences in anxiety severity measures across stages. Differences in depression severity and disability were assessed as secondary outcome measures. Results: Results showed that the anxiety disorder staging model has construct and predictive validity. At baseline, differences in anxiety severity, social avoidance behaviors, agoraphobic avoidance behaviors, worrying, depressive symptoms and levels of disability existed across all stages (all p-values < 0.001). Over time, these differences between stages remained present until the 6-year follow-up. Differences across stages followed a linear trend in all analyses: higher stages were characterized by the worst outcomes. Regarding the stages, subjects with psychiatric comorbidity (stages 2B, 3B, 4B) showed a deteriorated course compared with those without comorbidity (stages 2A, 3A, 4A). Conclusion: A clinical staging tool would be useful in clinical practice to predict disease course in anxiety disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-184
Number of pages12
JournalAustralian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020


  • Anxiety disorders
  • clinical staging
  • diagnostics
  • epidemiology

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