Anxiousness is not the same as anxiety.
While it’s normal and sometimes beneficial to feel anxious at times, such as before a job interview or during an important project, severe or ongoing anxiety may be a sign of generalized anxiety disorder.
What are the signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders?
Depending on the type of anxiety disorder, symptoms differ and may include:
- Fast heart rate
- Feeling of being smothered
- Feeling of choking
- Chest pain
- Numbness or tingling
- Fear of losing control
- Fear of dying
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Sleep disturbance
- Fear of being embarrassed or humiliated
How is an anxiety disorder diagnosed?
There are no lab tests or imaging tests that can diagnose anxiety disorders. However, your primary doctor may order some tests to rule out other medical conditions in which anxiety is one of the symptoms.
If your doctor finds out that there is no physical disorder that is causing your anxiety, they may refer you to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist will interview you to assess the severity of your anxiety and then arrive at a diagnosis. Questions will typically cover topics such as the duration and intensity of your symptoms and how they affect your daily life.
How are anxiety disorders treated?
Psychiatrists typically treat anxiety disorders with a combination of medications and psychotherapy.
- Anti-anxiety medications: Anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines help reduce the feelings of anxiety and panic. While they work quickly, you can develop a tolerance to them over time. Because of this, your psychiatrist may prescribe them for a short period and add an antidepressant medication to the treatment.
- Antidepressants: Antidepressants work on certain chemicals in your brain to improve mood and reduce stress. Unlike anti-anxiety medications, they take time to work. Do not discontinue them abruptly without consulting your psychiatrist, as doing so can result in several unwanted side effects.
- Beta blockers: If you develop rapid heart rate and trembling due to anxiety, your psychiatrist may prescribe beta blockers, which are typically used to treat high blood pressure.
Your psychiatrist will ask you to follow up to check if the medications are working. They will first try a combination of various medications for your anxiety to finally figure out which combination suits you the best.
Psychotherapy, also called counseling, aims to help you better understand and manage the disorder through various strategies:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches you to identify thought patterns and behaviors that lead to the symptoms of your anxiety disorder. It then teaches you how to change them.
- Exposure therapy involves strategies to help you confront your fears by exposing you to triggers gradually and helping you overcome them.
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Bhatt NV. Anxiety disorder. Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/286227-overview