Anxiety disorders are a common type of psychiatric disorder, characterized by anxiety or fear that does not go away over time.
There are several types of anxiety disorders, and symptoms vary depending on the specific condition.
Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include excessive anxiety and worry that is difficult to control and are associated with at least three of the following six symptoms occurring more days than not for at least six months:
- Restlessness or feeling on edge
- Being easily fatigued
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Sleep problems
Symptoms of social anxiety disorder (social phobia) include:
- Fear of social situations and exposure to possible scrutiny by others, that can inhibit a person’s ability to function at work or in school
- Fear of humiliation or embarrassment
Symptoms of panic disorder include:
- Feeling as if you’re having a heart attack (patients with panic disorder often come to a hospital’s emergency department because they fear a heart attack is occurring)
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Sudden onset of fear, usually reaching its peak within 10 minutes
- Recurrent panic attacks, with one or more attacks followed by at least one month of fear of another panic attack or significant behavior changes related to the attacks
- May result in changes in personality, such as a person becoming more passive, dependent, or withdrawn
Symptoms of agoraphobia include:
- Intense anxiety when the patient is exposed to specific situations such as heights, animals, small spaces, or storms
- Fear of being trapped without escape
Symptoms of specific (simple) phobias include:
- Irrational and out of proportion fear to specific situations (e.g., animals, insects, blood, needles, flying, heights)
- Fear can be disabling and can lead to other anxiety disorders, depression, suicidal ideation, and substance-abuse disorders
How Are Anxiety Disorders Diagnosed?
Anxiety disorders are diagnosed with a psychological evaluation. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association provides diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder.
Other tests may be performed to rule out other physical causes of anxiety.
What Is the Treatment for Anxiety Disorders?
Treatment for anxiety disorders usually consists of a combination of medication and/or psychotherapy.
Medications used to treat anxiety disorders include:
- Benzodiazepines, especially in emergency situations
- Anti-anxiety drugs
- Antihypertensive drugs
Types of therapy used to treat anxiety disorders include:
- Behavioral therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Computerized CBT (FearFighter)
- Psychodynamic therapy (or insight-oriented therapy) is rarely used on its own for phobias but may be used for phobic disorders that overlap personality disorders
- Interpersonal psychotherapy
- Relaxation therapy
- Supportive psychotherapy
- Mindfulness therapy
Other treatments used for anxiety disorders include:
- Cranial electrotherapy stimulator (CES) for treatment of anxiety, depression, and insomnia
Hospitalization may be indicated to treat anxiety disorders in severe cases such as:
- Severe functional impairment (cannot meet own daily needs)
- Suicide or homicide risk
- Deficits in social skills
Dietary changes that may help treat anxiety disorders include:
- Avoiding caffeine
- Using caution with over-the-counter preparations and herbal remedies because ephedrine and other herbal compounds may cause or worsen anxiety symptoms
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