Anxiety is a part of life and a common reaction to stress. In most cases, once the issue that is worrying us goes away, the anxiety will, too.
However, sometimes anxiety doesn’t subside, or at least not so easily. In fact, for some people anxiety can become so overwhelming that it impacts almost every aspect of their lives. If anxiety does not improve or begins to escalate, it is may be an anxiety disorder.
There are many different types of anxiety disorders, and anxiety disorders affect 40 million people in the U.S.—in fact, they’re the most common group of mental health disorders in the nation. Here are some of the most common anxiety disorders and a brief description of the most relevant symptoms:
1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): On-going anxiety, with no known cause.
2. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Recurrent, unwanted thoughts and/or repetitive behaviors.
3. Panic Disorder/Anxiety Attacks: Episodes of intense fear along with physical symptoms like a racing heartbeat.
4. Phobia-Related Disorders: Intense fear of specific events or objects, such as flying or spiders.
5. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Anxiety after exposure to a terrifying event in which physical assault or violence occurred or was observed or threatened.
6. Social Anxiety Disorder: Immense anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations.
Within each of these categories, there are many different ways these clinical conditions can manifest. For instance, one person with social anxiety disorder might only feel anxious in specific situations, while another individual might experience this form of anxiety continually.
If you’re trying to understand if you may have an anxiety disorder—to help yourself or someone you know—it’s helpful to know that many times anxiety happens along with another condition, such as:
• ADHD: Approximately 60% of children with ADHD become adults with an anxiety disorder.
• Autism: Social anxiety – excessive fear in social situations – is especially common among children with autism.
• Chronic Pain: Many chronic pain disorders—like chronic back pain—are common in people with anxiety disorders.
• Depression: Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand—even though they are different conditions. In fact, nearly 50% of people who are diagnosed with depression also are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Learn more at the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Note: Because anxiety is complex, treatment can be too. If you believe you or someone you know may have an anxiety disorder, see a health care provider so you can be properly evaluated and get the expert care you need.
To help a doctor properly diagnose you, take note of your symptoms as well as when they are occurring. If you are experiencing any of the problems listed here and they are not going away—or are becoming worse—make an appointment to see a mental health specialist or medical professional as soon as possible:
• Avoiding situations that trigger anxiety
• Dry mouth
• Excessive irritability
• Excessive worry
• Muscle weakness
• Nausea or GI (gastro-intestinal) problems
• Difficulty concentrating
• Sleep issues
Treatments for an anxiety disorder may include medication, psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy or a combination of these therapies.
Self-care—like getting exercise, meditation and breathing exercises—can also be used to support good mental health and reduce anxiety. However, people with anxiety disorders should work with their doctor or a mental health professional to get optimal care, tailored to their individual condition.
Two standard ways of treating an anxiety disorder is through psychotherapy (sometimes referred to as “talk therapy”), and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or a combination of therapies. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a method used to identify and then change harmful thought patterns. Sometimes this involves being exposed to certain fears in order to become less sensitive to them.
A medical professional can help a patient get prescription medications that can help manage anxiety. These drugs can help control both physical symptoms, like trembling, as well as mental symptoms, like obsessive worry. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) classifies drugs for anxiety disorders into these broad categories:
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): A type of antidepressant that is also useful for the treatment of anxiety disorders. Examples of SSRIs include:
• Citalopram (Celexa)
• Escitalopram (Lexapro)
• Fluoxetine (Prozac)
• Fluvoxamine (Luvox)
• Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
• Sertraline (Zoloft)
Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs): SNRIs are another class of antidepressant. Examples of SNRIs used for anxiety disorders are:
• Duloxetine (Cymbalta)
• Venlafaxine (Effexor XR)
Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs): Older antidepressant medication, now prescribed less often than SSRIs or SNRIs. Examples of TCAs used to treat anxiety disorders include:
• Amitriptyline (Elavil)
• Imipramine (Tofranil)
• Nortriptyline (Pamelor)
Benzodiazepines: Benzodiazepines are fast-acting sedative drugs. Since they can be addictive, they are usually prescribed for short-term use only. They include:
• Alprazolam (Xanax)
• Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
• Diazepam (Valium)
• Lorazepam (Ativan)
Other Medications: Other medicines may help treat anxiety, although doctors usually only prescribe them if SSRIs or similar drugs do not work. These include:
• Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
Not everyone reacts to medications in the same way, and finding a safe and effective medication to treat anxiety may take some trial and error. In fact, up to half of all patients do not respond as desired (and some even experience adverse reactions) to the first psychiatric medication they’re prescribed. This is due in part to their individual genetic makeup (their DNA).
In recent years, however, scientists have identified innovative ways to use genetic testing to help personalize treatment in order to better meet the needs of individual patients—and help get them medications that are more likely to be well tolerated and effective. This science is now available to health care professionals to help them treat patients who have anxiety.
The information revealed by a patient’s DNA can also help a doctor understand if a patient might experience negative side effects or adverse drug reactions, and avoid those options.
This remarkable science is already helping people suffering from anxiety, helping them gain peace of mind and better control of the lives, and be more informed than ever before.
With good information, you can better understand how these conditions may affect you, your loved one or your patient. The better informed you are, the better you can advocate. Learn more by clicking the topics below: