Symptoms and Signs: Anxiety

What Is an Anxiety?

An anxiety is a feeling of apprehension and fear, characterized by physical symptoms such as palpitations, sweating, and feelings of stress.

What Are Anxiety Symptoms and Signs?

Anxiety as a medical condition is characterized by worry, fear, nervousness, shortness of breath, sleep problems and other symptoms. Diarrhea, tremors and rapid heart rate are some physical symptoms of severe anxiety, which may arise from a mental or physical condition, drug use, or some combination of these causes. Treatment can include medication and psychotherapy.

Types of Anxiety include:

What are Symptoms and Signs of Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder: recurrent episodes of panic attacks, worry about having an attack, about what it means, or changing the way one behaves because of the panic attacks for at least a month. Panic attacks are separate and intense periods of fear or feelings of doom developing over a very short time frame-10 minutes-and they're associated with at least four of the following:

  • Palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sense of choking
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea or another stomach upset
  • Dizziness
  • A feeling of being detached from the world (derealization)
  • Being unable to think, feeling as if the mind has gone blank
  • Irrational fear of dying
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Chills or hot flashes

What Are Symptoms and Signs of Generalized Disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder: excessive, unrealistic, and difficult to control worry over a period of at least six months. It's associated with three of the following:

  • Restlessness
  • Easily tired
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep problems?

What Are Symptoms and Signs of Phobic Disorders?

Phobic disorders: intense, persistent, and recurring fear of certain objects (such as snakes, spiders, or blood) or situations (such as heights, speaking in front of a group, or public places). These exposures may trigger a panic attack.

Stress disorders: anxiety (also known as post-traumatic stress disorder) caused by the exposure to either death or near-death circumstances such as fires, floods, earthquakes, shootings, automobile accidents, or wars, for example. Other traumatic events may not have had the threat of death or near-death but resulted in the severe injury or threat thereof. Examples of such trauma include victimization through physical or sexual abuse, witnessing the abuse of another or over-exposure to inappropriate material (for example, exposure of children to pornographic images or acts). The traumatic event is re-experienced in thoughts and dreams. Common behaviors include the following:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma, either when awake (flashbacks) or when asleep (nightmares)
  • Avoiding activities, places, or people associated with the triggering event
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Being hypervigilant (you closely watch your surroundings)
  • Feeling a general sense of depression, irritability, doom and gloom with diminished emotions such as loving feelings or aspirations for the future

What Are Symptoms of Separation Anxiety?

Symptoms of separation anxiety disorder include the following:

  • The subjective feeling of anxiety
  • Unrealistic worries about the safety of loved ones
  • Reluctance to fall asleep if not near the primary attachment figure
  • Excessive dismay (for example, tantrums) if separation from the primary attachment figure is imminent
  • Nightmares with separation-related themes
  • Homesickness
  • Psychosomatic symptoms such as:
    • a headache,
    • dizziness,
    • lightheadedness,
    • nausea,
    • stomachache,
    • cramps,
    • vomiting,
    • muscle aches, and
    • heart palpitations?

What Causes Anxiety?

Problem anxiety may be caused by a mental condition, a physical condition, the effects of drugs, or from a combination of these. The doctor's initial task is to see if your anxiety is caused by a medical condition. Conditions, as varied as anemia, asthma attack, infection, drug intoxication or withdrawal, or a number of heart conditions, are just a few examples of medical problems that can be associated with anxiety.
Common types of anxiety are classified as a number of distinct mental conditions.

Panic Disorder

In addition to attacks of anxiety, called panic attacks, common symptoms of panic disorders are stomach upset, palpitations (feeling your heart beat), dizziness, and shortness of breath. These same symptoms also can be caused by caffeine consumption, amphetamines ("speed" is the street slang for amphetamines when they are not prescribed by a doctor), an overactive thyroid, abnormal heart rhythms, and other heart abnormalities (such as mitral valve prolapse). The panic attack sufferer may experience their mind going blank or that they somehow do not feel real, in that they feel as if they are looking at themselves from outside of themselves. In order to qualify for the diagnosis of panic disorder, the individual would experience repeated panic attacks rather than just one episode.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Those who endure this condition experience numerous worries that are more often on the mind of the sufferer than not. Those worries interfere with the person's ability to sleep, frequently affect appetite, energy level, concentration, and other aspects of daily functioning.

Phobic disorders: People with phobias experience irrational fear that may rise to the level of panic attacks in response to a specific thing or situation. Examples of phobias include fears of spiders, insects in general, open spaces, closed-in spaces, air travel, heights, and social anxiety.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Individuals with this condition either suffer from intrusive and distressing thoughts (obsessions) or engage in irresistible, often repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Examples of obsessions include worries about germs or having items in a particular order. Examples of compulsions include counting items or activities, avoiding walking on cracks, or avoiding touching doorknobs.

Separation Anxiety Disorder

Considered a disorder of children, separation anxiety disorder can be diagnosed when a child becomes extremely anxious in response to anticipating or being separated from one or more caregiving adults (usually a parent). The separation may come with the child's going to school each day or going to bed each evening, for example.

Stress disorders

These common external factors can cause anxiety:

  • Stress at work
  • Stress from school
  • Stress in a personal relationship such as marriage or friendships
  • Financial stress
  • Stress from an emotional trauma such as the death of a loved one, a natural disaster, victimization by crime, physical abuse or sexual abuse (for example, acute stress disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • Stress from a serious medical illness
  • Side effects of medication
  • Intoxication (being "high" on) with an illicit drug, such as cocaine or amphetamines
  • Withdrawal from an illicit drug, such as opiates (for example, heroin) or from prescription drugs like Vicodin, benzodiazepines, or barbiturates
  • Symptoms of a medical illness
  • Lack of oxygen: In circumstances as diverse as high altitude sickness, emphysema, or pulmonary embolism (a blood clot with the vessels of the lung)
The doctor has the often difficult task of determining which symptoms come from which causes. For example, in a study of people with chest pain that could be heart disease but turned out not to be heart-related, 43% were found to have a panic disorder-a common form of anxiety.

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