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Anxiety Disorder - Types, Causes and Treatments

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Anxiety Disorder - Types, Causes and Treatments

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Anxiety is a minor psychiatric illness that is extremely common. Early recognition of the symptoms helps in advocating the right treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Preetha. J

Published At April 26, 2017
Reviewed AtApril 1, 2024

Introduction

Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. One might feel anxious in certain situations, like being faced with a problem at work, speaking in the presence of a large audience before taking an important exam, or making an important decision. When this anxiety becomes pervasive enough to interfere with other aspects of our daily functioning, it becomes a disorder. Anxiety disorders are not transient worries or fears which may occur as a part of everyday life. In anxiety disorders, the fear becomes persistent and refuses to go away. This can serve to impede one’s performance in the professional and personal spheres.

What Are the Types of Anxiety Disorders?

Broadly, anxiety disorders fall into one of the following three types:

Diffuse and persistent worries about everything in everyday life characterize generalized anxiety disorder. It may start with experiencing fearfulness, palpitations, tremulousness of the hands and feet, and profuse sweating. People afflicted with this will be unable to relax, startle easily, and have difficulty concentrating. They may also experience restlessness and will not be able to sit still. They may also experience vague physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, muscle aches, lightheadedness, breathlessness, nausea, sweating, and a compelling need to go to the bathroom.

Panic disorder, on the other hand, may have symptoms similar to that of generalized anxiety disorder. However, these symptoms do not last through the day, as in the case of generalized anxiety disorder. Instead, they tend to occur in the form of discrete attacks. These panic attacks usually terminate within ten minutes. During a panic attack, one may experience sudden and repeated fearfulness, have a feeling of losing control of the situation and going crazy, have an intense worry of having the next attack, and avoid places or situations where panic attacks have occurred in the past. As with generalized anxiety disorder, physical symptoms like racing of the heart, breathlessness, tingling and numbness, chest pain, etc., may also be experienced.

People with social phobia have a difficult time being around other people. They feel anxious in the presence of crowds and strangers. Although they would want to speak to others, they cannot bring themselves to do so and are worried by it. People with social phobia feel embarrassed and extremely self-conscious in the presence of others. They tend to have irrational worries about others judging them for how they walk, speak, or behave in others’ presence. They tend to worry for days before an event where there is a chance of them being in the midst of others. Due to this persistent worry, they start isolating themselves from such events or situations. This might result in secondary depression.

What Causes Anxiety Disorders?

Research has shown that anxiety disorders run in families. The exact cause is yet to be pinpointed. Several parts of the brain are involved in the genesis of anxiety disorders, and amongst these, the part named amygdala assumes the central role in fear and emotional regulation. On-going stress and environmental factors also contribute to anxiety disorders.

What Are the Symptoms of Anxiety Condition?

Some physical symptoms are

  • Cold or sweaty hands.

  • Heart palpitation.

  • Dry mouth.

  • Nausea.

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Muscle tension.

  • Numbness.

Some mental symptoms are

  • Panic or fear.

  • Nightmares.

  • Obsessive thoughts.

  • Repeated thoughts of the traumatic events.

  • Inability to sit calmly.

  • Trouble sleeping.

Who Should One Approach?

Like all psychiatric diagnoses, anxiety disorders are diagnosed on clinical grounds. This would entail talking to a psychiatrist or any other mental health professional who would then direct the patient to a doctor. Brain imaging techniques have found changes in the blood flow patterns to parts of the brain regulating fear and anxiety in those with anxiety disorders. However, these techniques are mostly used for research and are not routinely used for diagnosis. A physical examination is mandatory; a few blood tests may be ordered to determine the basal function.

What Are the Available Treatment Strategies?

Anxiety disorders are treated with a combination of talk therapy and medications. All people with anxiety disorders may not require medications. Mild anxiety responds to talk therapy alone, while the more severe forms require pharmacological intervention.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: In this therapy, a person is taught to modify his/her thinking patterns. This helps them to react to anxious situations in a calm and controlled manner. This requires active efforts on the part of the person afflicted with anxiety disorder. This takes place gradually over several therapy sessions.

  • Medications: Antidepressants, which are used to treat depression, are also employed in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Anti-anxiety medications may also be used for rapid relief from anxiety. Antidepressants take a minimum of two weeks to exert their actions. Anti-anxiety medications called benzodiazepines act faster than antidepressants. Both classes of medications are safe and well tolerated. However, they need to be administered under the surveillance of a mental health professional. These medications are not continued indefinitely but are weaned off after six to nine months.

How Do Anxiety Conditions Affect Children?

It is very normal for the children to feel anxiety at some point. But sometimes, they cannot overcome the fear of the condition. These children get stuck to their worries very often. They feel it hard to perform regular activities, such as going to school, playing, or falling asleep. When the anxiety of the child impacts the normal life of the child, then medical help is needed.

What Are the Risk Factors Associated With Anxiety?

Some risk factors are

  • History of Mental Health: The presence of other mental health issues, such as depression, can enhance the risk of anxiety.

  • Childhood Sexual Abuse: Emotional, sexual, and physical abuse which were neglected during childhood can increase the risk of anxiety in later life.

  • Trauma: Living through some traumatic events can enhance the risk of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), which can increase the risk of anxiety.

  • Negative Life Events: Stressful or negative life events can enhance the chances of anxiety.

  • Chronic Health Condition: Constantly caring for health or taking care of someone sick around can increase the chances of anxiety.

  • Substance Abuse: Use of alcohol or other drugs can increase the risk of anxiety.

How Can Anxiety Be Prevented?

  • Checkout Medications: Consult the doctor before taking any over-the-counter or herbal medicines. Some of the chemicals present can worsen the anxiety condition.

  • Limit Caffeine: Limiting the intake of caffeine, tea, cola, or chocolate can help prevent anxiety.

  • Live a Healthy Life: Regular exercise and a proper diet can help.

  • Seek Help: Get counseling and support after any traumatic event.

Conclusion

Anxiety disorders are mental health conditions that cause fear, worry, and a feeling of being overwhelmed. This condition is characterized by excessive, persistent worry about everyday life. This condition can be treated through cognitive behavior and medication. Anxiety can be prevented by avoiding the trigger factor that causes it.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

How to Treat an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorders are treated with a combination of talk therapy and medications. All people with anxiety disorders may not require medications. People with mild anxiety respond well to talk therapy, while the more severe forms require pharmacological intervention.

2.

What Are the Causes of Anxiety?

Research has shown that anxiety disorders run in families. The exact cause is yet to be pinpointed. Several parts of the brain are involved in the genesis of anxiety disorders, and among these, the part named the amygdala assumes the central role in fear and emotional regulation. On-going stress and environmental factors also contribute to anxiety disorders.

3.

Is Anxiety Considered a Mental Illness?

Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. One might feel anxious in certain situations, like facing a problem at work, speaking in the presence of a large audience, taking an important exam, or making an important decision. When this anxiety becomes pervasive enough to interfere with other aspects of our daily functioning, it becomes a disorder.

4.

Which Doctor Is Best to Consult for Anxiety?

Like all psychiatric diagnoses, anxiety disorders are diagnosed on clinical grounds. This would entail talking to a psychiatrist or any other mental health professional who would then direct the patient to a doctor. Brain imaging techniques have found changes in the blood flow patterns to parts of the brain regulating fear and anxiety in those with anxiety disorders.

5.

What Are the Symptoms of Anxiety?

 
- Panic.
- Fear.
- Uneasiness.
- Feelings of panic.
- A doom feeling.
- A feeling of being in danger.
- Sleep disturbances.
- Not being able to stay calm and collected.
- Cold and sweaty hands.
- Numbness or tingling feelings in the hands or feet.
- Shortness of breath.
- Faster breathing.
- Hyperventilation.
- Palpitations.

6.

Can Anxiety Damage the Brain?

Anxiety, when not diagnosed and left untreated over a long period, can cause a certain level of damage to the brain. Still, the percentage of such damage is extremely sporadic.

7.

What Happens to the Brain During Anxiety?

Anxiety has the potential to make changes in a part of the brain called the amygdala that senses trouble. When the amygdala senses a threat, which is real or imaginary, it fills the body with hormones that include cortisol (stress hormone) as well as adrenaline to make the body fast and powerful.

8.

What Happens When Anxiety Is Not Treated?

When anxiety is left untreated, the patient can end up in a severe long-standing case of mental illness that would require serious therapy sessions and may include medication therapy.

9.

Does Anxiety Increase Along With Age?

It is not true that anxiety increases with age and that all older people are anxious. Living a life with mental peace, regular exercise, and a positive attitude will help one overcome anxiety, even in the long run.
Dr. Alok Vinod Kulkarni
Dr. Alok Vinod Kulkarni

Psychiatry

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anxiety
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