Anxiety Disorder: Types, Signs, Symptoms, Causes, Risks, Complications, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

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women with Anxiety Disorder

1Overview

Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress. Everyone experiences anxiety in various occasions – speaking in front of a vast number of people, reporting to class, going to your first job interview or speaking to your crush.

It’s a typical reaction and can help you in so many ways. It gives alerts and warnings of the dangers to help you prepare and pay attention. However, when these feelings of intense distress and fear prevent you from performing your roles and daily activities, it’s already an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorder is the most common of mental illness, affecting about 30 percent of adults at some point in their lives. In the United States, approximately 40 million adults or 18 percent of the population.

2Types Of Anxiety Disorders

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) involves the excessive and insistent worry that may interfere with one’s daily activities. People with GAD find it hard to control their fear and the ongoing tension may be accompanied by physical symptoms such as restlessness, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, insomnia, and a racing heartbeat. GAD affects about 6.8 million adults or 3.1 percent of the population in the United States.

Panic Disorder

Individuals with panic disorder have recurrent unexpected panic attacks. The feelings of intense fear are sudden and may be accompanied by physical symptoms like accelerated heart rate, a pounding heart, palpitations, trembling, feelings of being choked and feeling of impending doom.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Also dubbed as social phobia, social anxiety disorder happens when you feel an overwhelming fear, worry, and self-consciousness when you’re faced with social situations. You fear to go to parties or to speak in front of many people because you don’t want to be ridiculed or being the center of attention.

Phobias

There are many types of phobias. In particular phobias, you feel intense fear of a specific situation or object. You fear these particular objects that are usually not harmful. Some examples include fear of heights, spiders or flying.

3Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms of anxiety disorders depend on the type a person has.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

  • General feeling of discomfort or uneasiness
  • Persistent worry
  • Feeling you’re not safe
  • Overly cautious approach to life
  • Persistent feeling of being alert for danger
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigued quickly
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep problems

Panic Disorder

  • Racing heart
  • Heart palpitations
  • Nervous stomach
  • Sweating
  • Intense feeling of doom
  • Lightheadedness
  • Trembling
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling like you’ll go crazy
  • Sudden urge to escape
  • Heightened fear and apprehension
  • Throat tightness
  • Knee weakness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Super sensitive nerves and senses

Social Anxiety Disorder

  • Feeling highly anxious about being with other people
  • Have trouble talking to others
  • Self-consciousness
  • Fear of being ridiculed, humiliated, embarrassed or rejected
  • Fear of being judged
  • Staying away from places where there are many people
  • Sweating or trembling around others
  • Feeling sick or nauseous when speaking in front of many people

Phobias

  • Being overly afraid of an object, a situation or a person
  • Increased sense of danger when near the feared item or subject
  • Persistent worry or concern about the subject
  • Other signs and symptoms common to anxiety disorders

4Causes

There are a lot of theories on why anxiety disorders develop. Like other forms of mental illness, it comes from a combination of many factors like brain changes, genetics, and environmental factors.

Anxiety disorders run in families, and it’s associated with the faulty circuits in the brain that controls the emotions and fear.

5Risk factors

Just one factor doesn’t cause an anxiety disorder but a combination of things. Here are the risk factors for anxiety disorder.

Family History

A family history of mental health conditions may increase the likelihood of a person to develop anxiety disorders. However, having a family member who experiences anxiety disorder or other mental health problems doesn’t mean you’ll have one too automatically.

Personality

Some research suggests that people with certain personality traits. Individuals who are perfectionists, timid, inhibited, controlling, lack self-esteem and who are easily flustered are more likely to develop anxiety.

Stressful Events

During an ongoing stressful event, anxiety conditions may develop or progress. The most common triggers are changes in living arrangements, being laid off from work, changes and stress in work, family conflicts, pregnancy and giving birth, relationship problems, emotional shock, traumatic events, death or loss of a loved one, and verbal, sexual, physical or emotional trauma or abuse.

Physical Illness

Having a physical or health problem may increase the risk of developing anxiety disorders. Chronic diseases may contribute to anxiety disorders such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease and hypertension.

6Complications

An anxiety disorder is a medical condition that can interfere with one’s life. People who have this condition find it hard to handle school or job responsibilities, perform daily tasks, concentrate and maintain relationships. At times, they may even have a difficult time getting out of bed.

When anxiety is left untreated, it can increase the risk of severe and even life-threatening complications.

Depression

Depression often occurs with general anxiety disorder. It’s a prevalent condition in people with anxiety that sometimes, it’s hard to distinguish the two.

Bipolar Disorder

Some symptoms of people with anxiety are common in those who have bipolar disorder. In fact, the presence of anxiety may worsen the condition.

Suicidal Thoughts

Panic disorder is commonly associated with a risk of suicidal thoughts. Studies have shown that 18 percent of people with panic disorder attempt suicide. Other types of anxiety disorders increase the risk of suicide. When any of these disorders are accompanied by depression, the risk is higher.

Physical Effects

Anxiety disorders may affect one’s physical health. Research suggests that people who have an anxiety disorder and a physical illness have a worse quality of life. Moreover, they have an increased risk of disability.

Another physical effect of anxiety disorders is heart disease. People with anxiety disorders commonly have cardiovascular diseases such as unhealthy cholesterol levels, thicker blood vessels, and hypertension.

7Diagnosis

Anxiety is difficult to diagnose. A complete physical examination is necessary. This helps the doctor rule out other illnesses that may be causing the symptoms. Moreover, a complete personal history is needed for an accurate diagnosis.

Laboratory examinations are also required if a medical condition is suspected and the doctor will ask detailed questions about the medical history and symptoms.

Here are other diagnostic tests for anxiety disorders:

Zung Self-Rating Anxiety Scale

The Zung Self-Rating Anxiety Scale is a 20-item questionnaire wherein you’ll rate your condition on subjects like shaking, anxiety, racing heartbeat, being nervous, frequent urination, fainting, and nightmares.

Hamilton Anxiety Scale (HAM-A)

The Hamilton Anxiety Scale (HAM-A) is a test to determine and rate moods, tension, and fears. It’s one of the first rating scales for anxiety.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale

The general anxiety disorder Scale is a screening tool for GAD. It has questions about feelings of irritability, fear or nervousness.

8Treatment

Anxiety disorders and depression are treatable. There are many treatment options you can choose from.

Therapy

When it comes to the treatment of anxiety disorders, the most common and effective method is through therapy. Therapy, unlike medications, helps treat more than just the symptoms but also the underlying causes of the worries and fear. You will learn how to relax and develop coping mechanisms.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is now a widely-used treatment option for anxiety. Cognitive therapy examines how negative thoughts contribute to anxiety, and behavioral therapy sees how a person behaves in situations that trigger anxiety.

Medications

Medications used in the treatment of anxiety are safe and effective. It’s used in conjunction with therapy. The most commonly used medications are the following:

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Tricyclic Antidepressants
  • Ketamine

9Prognosis

If anxiety disorders, particularly the Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) are not treated, the prognosis is poor. Patients might develop complications like secondary depression, which may require medical and psychological therapy.

Though it’s treatable, anxiety disorder is among the most common and disabling mental disorders. Effective management requires early detection and treatment.

10Prevention

The development of an anxiety disorder can be prevented. The exact cause of anxiety disorders is still unknown, making it hard to prevent their development. However, there are steps to reduce anxiety and alleviate future episodes.

Early Intervention

Anxiety disorders in children are easier to treat than those in adults. Early intervention has shown promising effects in preventing a full-blown anxiety disorder in the future.

Stress Reduction

If you’re experiencing anxiety, it is important to reduce stressors in one’s life. Find ways to relax like meditate, exercise and become preoccupied. You can practice yoga, join a fitness class or take walks regularly.

Journal Writing

Keeping a daily journal is a great way to keep track of your anxiety symptoms, moods and stress. Writing down the problems and triggers can help you determine how your symptoms start and how you can relieve them.

Avoid Unhealthy Substances

Avoid tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. Though they are commonly called stress relievers, they can damage the body and make it hard for you to handle stress and anxiety.

Another substance to avoid is coffee. Caffeine can cause increased anxiety.