October 5, 2015
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Prescription Anxiety Medications

Medical Editor:

What are anxiety medications and how do they work?

Anxiety is a normal and useful response to potentially stressful or dangerous situations. It increases our awareness of what's going on around us. For most people, anxiety is short lived and normally goes away once the situation has passed. This is not the case for an estimated 40 million adults in the United States who have some type of anxiety disorder and experience ongoing and unwarranted psychological distress. That distress may also manifest itself in physical symptoms such as muscle tension, headaches, or chest pain.

Anxiety medications include multiple types of drugs that are used to treat the symptoms of anxiety disorders. The three most commonly prescribed types of anxiety medication are antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications (also known as anxiolytics), and beta-blockers. Antidepressants and anxiolytic medications work primarily by affecting the balance of certain chemicals in the brain known as neurotransmitters. Beta-blockers and other types of drugs are used to address the physical symptoms that may accompany an anxiety attack. First-generation antihistamines are also used to help with anxiety symptoms because they have a sedating effect.

Anxiety disorders are associated with certain chemical imbalances in the brain involving neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and gamma aminobutyric acid or GABA. These chemicals are associated with an individual's sense of well-being or with the ability to relax. Anxiety medications can't cure an anxiety disorder, but by altering the level of these chemicals, antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs help control the psychological symptoms. Beta-blocking drugs work by blocking the receptors that are associated with some of the physiological symptoms of anxiety -- including rapid heartbeat.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/30/2015

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