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Overview of anxiety

Anxiety is a feeling of nervousness, apprehension, fear or worry. Anxiety disorders are disorders of the nervous system causing unreasonable worry, which is not based on the fact. Anxiety can occur with or without cause. This disorder is accompanied by a variety of physical symptoms related to heart, lung, nervous and gastrointestinal systems. Along with anxiety disorder, there may be other underlying medical and physical illnesses including alcohol and substance abuse, which makes the anxiety symptoms worse. Hence, care should be taken to identify these illnesses before treating.

Anxiety disorders can be categorized into the following types.1

  • Anxiety due to a general medical condition
  • Substance-induced anxiety disorder
  • Generalized anxiety
  • Panic disorder
  • Acute stress disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Adjustment disorder with anxious features
  • Social phobia
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Specific phobias

Signs and Symptoms of anxiety

Signs and symptoms depend on the specific type of anxiety disorder. In general, primary symptoms of anxiety disorder are fear and worry. Signs and symptoms of anxiety disorder can also be based on emotional and physical behavior.

Signs and symptoms of anxiety

Causes of anxiety

An interaction between biophysical factors and traumatic situations may cause anxiety disorders. Neurotransmitters of the central nervous system like norepinephrine and serotonin, peptides like corticotropin-releasing factor are the major mediators for the cause of anxiety disorder.

Risk Factors for anxiety

Studies have shown that children of anxious parents are at major risk for anxiety disorders.6

The following are some risk factors.

  • Gender: Women are at more risk than men. Factors like hormonal, cultural pressures to meet family’s need, self-restrictions increase the risk in women.
  • Age: Phobias and separation anxiety can show up in early childhood and teens. Symptoms in children and adult may vary. Early diagnosis can avoid later anxiety disorders.
  • Personality Factors: Personal factors like shyness, reserved nature etc. are at risk of developing anxiety disorders in later life.
  • Family History: Anxiety disorders may run in families. Genetic factors are responsible in some of the cases.
  • Hypoglycemia: Low blood sugar can cause anxiety attacks.
  • Trauma: Traumatic events like car accidents, marital separation and early life abusive or developmental trauma are at risk and may develop anxiety disorders.

Apart from the above, excessive caffeine, allergies to foods, lack of sleep and lack of exercise can also cause anxiety. 

Diagnosis of anxiety

Medical tests cannot be used to diagnose anxiety disorders. The physician has to rule out physical conditions or diseases that show anxiety symptoms. A thorough physical examination is done.

A blood test may be conducted to check thyroid hormone levels and blood sugar levels. Blood pressure is checked if the pulse rate is affected by anxiety.

The physician later gathers information about the following:

  • Diet
  • Occupational history
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Caffeine consumption
  • Work place

Along with this information, the physician may subject the person to a brief psychological test, which helps in evaluating the intensity of the patient’s anxiety. Some tests that are often given include the Hamilton Anxiety Scale and the Anxiety Disorders Interview Schedule (ADIS).

Treatment of anxiety

Anxiety disorders respond very well to treatment. Most anxiety disorders are treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), medication, or a combination of these two.7,8

Treatment for anxiety

Living with the anxiety

To a person with anxiety disorder, everyday is a challenge. During and after the treatment, some of the following may help to minimize the negative feelings.

  • Approaching a family member or a friend might be very helpful. If required, a doctor Confidential counseling if required can provide confidential counseling.
  • Self-help strategy may contribute to control the symptoms and allow an active participant in the recovery process.
    Reading stories about other people who are living with anxiety disorder will help them to feel less isolated

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1.American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 2000, 4th edn, Washington, DC. 

2.Available at: www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/summary/88512149/SUMMARY. Accessed on: 4th April, 2008.

3.Available at: www.brainexplorer.org/anxiety/Anxiety_Epidemiology.shtml. Accessed on: 4th April, 2008.

4.Available at: www.helpguide.org/mental/anxiety_types_symptoms_treatment.htm. Accessed on: 4th April, 2008.

5.Pine DS, Coplan JD, Papp LA, Klein RG, Martinez JM, Kovalenko P. Ventilatory physiology of children and adolescents with anxiety disorders. Arch Gen Psychiatr. 1998; 55: 123–129.

6.Biederman J, Hirshfeld-Becker DR, Schwartz CE, Hayward C, Warren SL. Family, temperament, and attachment: Risk factors for childhood anxiety disorders. Presented at the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 46th Annual Meeting, Chicago, Illinois, October 19–24, 1999. Symposium 29.

7.Sheehan DV. The management of panic disorder. J Clin Psychiatry. 2002; 63(Suppl 14): 17¬–21.

8.Sheehan DV. Current concepts in the treatment of panic disorder. J Clin Psychiatry. 1999; 60(Suppl 18): 16–21.

9.Goddard AW, Brouette T, Almai A, Jetty P, Woods SW, Charney D. Early coadministration of clonazepam with sertraline for panic disorder. Arch Gen Psychiatr. 2001; 58: 681–686.

Written by: healthplus24.com team

Date last updated: December 11, 2014