Causes, Symptoms and Treatment for Anxiety Disorders

What is Anxiety? There are many types of anxiety disorders that include panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.

Anxiety is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences at times. Many people feel anxious, or nervous, when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or making an important decision. Anxiety disorders, however, are different. They can cause such distress that it interferes with a person's ability to lead a normal life.

An anxiety disorder is a serious mental illness. For people with anxiety disorders, worry and fear are constant and overwhelming, and can be crippling. Patients have reported physical pain associated with an anxiety attack along with mental anguish that far surpasses a "bad case of the blues". Some have even said they would prefer to have a limb cut off than suffer a protracted anxiety attack since there lies hope in recovery for the lost limb...

Types of Anxiety Disorders

There are several recognized types of anxiety disorders, including:

Panic disorder: People with this condition have feelings of terror that strike suddenly and repeatedly with no warning. Other symptoms of a panic attack include sweating, chest pain, palpitations (irregular heartbeats), and a feeling of choking, which may make the person feel like he or she is having a heart attack or "going crazy."

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): People with OCD are plagued by constant thoughts or fears that cause them to perform certain rituals or routines. The disturbing thoughts are called obsessions, and the rituals are called compulsions. An example is a person with an unreasonable fear of germs who constantly washes his or her hands.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSD is a condition that can develop following a traumatic and/or terrifying event, such as a sexual or physical assault, the unexpected death of a loved one, or a natural disaster. People with PTSD often have lasting and frightening thoughts and memories of the event, and tend to be emotionally numb.

Social anxiety disorder: Also called social phobia, social anxiety disorder involves overwhelming worry and self-consciousness about everyday social situations. The worry often centers on a fear of being judged by others, or behaving in a way that might cause embarrassment or lead to ridicule.

Generalized anxiety disorder: This disorder involves excessive, unrealistic worry and tension, even if there is little or nothing to provoke the anxiety.

Symptoms of an Anxiety Disorder

• Feelings of panic, fear, and uneasiness
• Uncontrollable, obsessive thoughts
• Repeated thoughts or flashbacks of traumatic experiences
• Nightmares
• Ritualistic behaviors, such as repeated hand washing
• Problems sleeping
• Cold or sweaty hands and/or feet
• Shortness of breath
• Palpitations
• An inability to be still and calm
• Dry mouth
• Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
• Nausea
• Muscle tension
• Dizziness

Causes Anxiety Disorders

The exact cause of anxiety disorders is unknown; but anxiety disorders -- like other forms of mental illness -- are not the result of personal weakness, a character flaw, or poor upbringing. As scientists continue their research on mental illness, it is becoming clear that many of these disorders are caused by a combination of factors, including changes in the brain and environmental stress. Recent studies show that prenatal stressors "might" have the ability to change the genes in the fetus, thus making this person more prone to anxiety. this might even be the case later in life as well. We see this with PTSD. These studies are still in the early years and should not be relied on but the future of genetic engineering shows some promise for "possibly" curing mental illness.

Like certain illnesses, such as diabetes, anxiety disorders may be caused by chemical imbalances in the body. Studies have shown that severe or long-lasting stress can change the balance of chemicals in the brain that control mood. Other studies have shown that people with certain anxiety disorders have changes in certain brain structures that control memory or mood. In addition, studies have shown that anxiety disorders run in families, which means that they can be inherited from one or both parents, like hair or eye color. Moreover, certain environmental factors -- such as a trauma or significant event -- may trigger an anxiety disorder in people who have an inherited susceptibility to developing the disorder.

Dioagnosing Anxiety Disorders

If symptoms of an anxiety disorder are present, the doctor will begin an evaluation by asking you questions about your medical history and performing a physical exam. Although there are no laboratory tests to specifically diagnose anxiety disorders, the doctor may use various tests to look for physical illness as the cause of the symptoms.

If no physical illness is found, you may be referred to a psychiatrist or psychologist, mental health professionals who are specially trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses. Psychiatrists and psychologists use specially designed interview and assessment tools to evaluate a person for an anxiety disorder.

The doctor bases his or her diagnosis on the patient's report of the intensity and duration of symptoms -- including any problems with daily functioning caused by the symptoms -- and the doctor's observation of the patient's attitude and behavior. The doctor then determines if the patient's symptoms and degree of dysfunction indicate a specific anxiety disorder.

Treating Anxiety Disorders

Fortunately, much progress has been made in the last two decades in the treatment of people with mental illnesses, including anxiety disorders. Although the exact treatment approach depends on the type of disorder, one or a combination of the following therapies may be used for most anxiety disorders:

Medication: Medicines used to reduce the symptoms of anxiety disorders include anti-depressants and anxiety-reducing drugs. Benzodiazepines have been very effective but are highly addictive and should only be used in short term therapy or for an acute attack.

Psychotherapy and Cognitive Behavior therapy: Psychotherapy (a type of counseling) addresses the emotional response to mental illness. It is a process in which trained mental health professionals help people by talking through strategies for understanding and dealing with their disorder.

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This article is for informational purposes only and not to be used in diagnosing or treating any potential illness