Diseases & Conditions

Anxiety Disorders


Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Anxiety is a vague, uncomfortable feeling of fear, dread, or danger. Anxiety disorders are a group of psychiatric conditions that involve anxiety. The problem may be real or imaginary. Symptoms can vary in severity and length. There are several types of anxiety:

  • acute situational anxiety
  • generalized anxiety disorder
  • panic disorder
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • phobias
  • obsessive compulsive disorders
  • What is going on in the body?

    Everyone feels anxious from time to time. People who are anxious may be worried about things around them. They may have an internal, mental struggle. Sometimes anxiety is so severe it causes a great deal of distress. It can interfere with the ability to function in society. In these cases, an anxiety disorder is said to be present.

    What are the causes and risks of the condition?

    Anxiety disorders are not caused by other medical conditions. It is not known why some people are more anxious than others. The feeling of anxiety is caused by the body's defense mechanisms. This is called fight or flight. The body makes adrenaline, which causes the symptoms.


    Symptoms & Signs

    What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?

    There are several different anxiety disorders. Each has its own symptoms. Examples of physical symptoms include:

  • palpitations, an unusual awareness of the heartbeat
  • dry mouth
  • sweating
  • trembling or shaking
  • shortness of breath or a choking sensation
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • chest pain
  • insomnia, inability to sleep well
  • Examples of mental symptoms include:

  • fear of dying or going crazy
  • fear of leaving the house
  • fear of crowds
  • difficulty concentrating
  • irritability
  • restlessness
  • fear of contamination or germs
  • constantly worrying about life
  • having the same thoughts over and over again
  • memory problems

  • Diagnosis & Tests

    How is the condition diagnosed?

    An anxiety disorder is diagnosed when the anxiety becomes severe. The person has problems with relationships or work because of anxiety. A history and physical exam should be done to rule other medical conditions that may cause symptoms of anxiety.


    Prevention & Expectations

    What can be done to prevent the condition?

    To help prevent anxiety a person can:

  • figure out what is causing the anxiety, and deal directly with it
  • consider lifestyle changes to reduce stress
  • learn relaxation techniques
  • What are the long-term effects of the condition?

    Anxiety is often linked to depression. It can cause problems in a person's work and social life.

    What are the risks to others?

    Anxiety disorders are not contagious.


    Treatment & Monitoring

    What are the treatments for the condition?

    Treatment generally include medications and psychotherapy.

    What are the side effects of the treatments?

    Some medications can cause sleeping and sexual problems. Others can cause sleepiness.

    What happens after treatment for the condition?

    Many people return to their daily activities after treatment. Medication is often given for a long time.

    How is the condition monitored?

    The person monitors their symptoms and reports them to the healthcare provider. A medication may need to be changed so it works better or to decrease side effects.


    Attribution

    Author:Adam Brochert, MD
    Date Written:
    Editor:Evans, Gwen, BA
    Edit Date:04/16/00
    Reviewer:Gail Hendrickson, RN, BS
    Date Reviewed:04/23/01

    Sources

    Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 1998, Fauci et al.

    Textbook of Psychiatry, 1997, Kaplan et al.