What is an Anxiety Disorder?
Anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric illness affecting both children and adults. It is estimated that 19 million American adults currently suffer from an anxiety disorder. Although anxiety disorders are highly treatable, only one third of those suffering from an anxiety disorder will seek treatment.
What is an Anxiety Disorder?
It's not uncommon to hear that someone suffers from an anxiety disorder. We hear about it on television, we read about it in magazines, and we may even know someone that suffers from it. Most of us assume that anxious people should be able to control their anxiety. Certainly, some anxiety is normal from time to time, but when anxiety is prolonged, and begins to interfere with a person's life, it may indicate that the person suffers from an anxiety disorder that requires treatment.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Most anxiety disorders fall into six distinct categories. To help you understand the different type of anxiety disorders, we've briefly explained each of them for you:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive worry and tension that lasts six months or more. Common symptoms include fatigue, irritability, muscular aches, insomnia, concentration problems, restlessness, and abdominal upsets.
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Social Anxiety Disorder is characterized by marked fear and anxiety about social situations (e.g., public speaking, attending parties, dating) where a person feels they may be judged, embarrassed, or ridiculed by others. This intense anxiety may lead to avoidance behavior and panic attacks.
Individuals with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) suffer from persistent, recurring thoughts (obsessions) that reflect exaggerated anxiety or fears such as the fear of being contaminated. The obsessions may lead to the individual performing a ritual or routine (compulsions) -such as repeated hand washing - to relieve the anxiety caused by the obsession.
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People with Panic Disorder suffer severe panic attacks for no reason. Common symptoms include heart palpitations, chest pain, sweating, trembling, feeling of chocking, fear of dying, fear of losing control, and feeling of unreality. Panic disorder often occur with agoraphobia, in which people are afraid of having a panic attack in a place from which escape would be difficult, so they avoid these places.
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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can follow a traumatic event such as witnessing a death or natural disaster. There are four main symptoms associated with PTSD: "reliving" the traumatic event (e.g., flashbacks); avoidance behaviors (e.g., avoiding places related to the trauma), emotional numbing (detachment from others); and physiological arousal including difficulty sleeping symptoms or poor concentration.
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Finally, people with Specific Phobias suffer from an intense fear reaction to a specific object or situation (e.g., spiders or heights).
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It is common for an anxiety disorder to accompany depression, alcohol or drug abuse, or another anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can also co-exist with illnesses such as cancer or heart disease. New treatments can help many people with anxiety disorders and are often combined with medication and specific types of psychotherapy.
A number of medications that were originally approved for treating depression have been found to be effective for anxiety disorders as well. Some of these antidepressants are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Other anti-anxiety medications include groups of drugs called benzodiazepines (e.g., valium) and azapirones (e.g., buspirone). While many people improve greatly with these treatments, some continue to experience persistent symptoms or may not tolerate the available medications. This is the reason for the ongoing effort by the research community to develop new medications to better treat anxiety symptoms.