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Overview of Anxiety Disorders


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Feb 2021| Content last modified Feb 2021
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What is an anxiety disorder?

Anxiety is being worried or nervous. Anxiety is often normal. For example, many people are anxious when they're having money problems, trouble at work, or family difficulties.

However, you may have an anxiety disorder if:

  • You're anxious a lot of the time even when you aren't having problems or the problems aren't bad

  • The anxiety is so severe it interferes with your life

Having a little anxiety can help you focus, but having a lot makes it hard to do things well.

  • In addition to being anxious, you may feel short of breath, dizzy, and sweaty and have a fast heartbeat

  • Some medical problems can cause anxiety (for example, heart disease, lung problems, or an overactive thyroid gland)

  • Many drugs can cause or worsen anxiety (for example, amphetamines, caffeine, cocaine, and corticosteroids)

  • People with anxiety are more likely than other people to have depression

  • Doctors treat anxiety disorders with medicine and therapy

What causes an anxiety disorder?

Doctors don't know exactly what causes anxiety, but the following make it more likely:

  • Family history of anxiety (it runs in families)

  • Stressful life event, such as a natural disaster or relationship breakup

  • Certain health problems, such as asthma

  • Using certain substances, such as alcohol

What are the symptoms of an anxiety disorder?

Symptoms include:

  • Worry, fear, or panic

  • Trouble breathing, dizziness, and fast heart rate

How can doctors tell if I have an anxiety disorder?

Doctors examine you and ask questions about your symptoms. Doctors consider other disorders and diseases that have signs and symptoms similar to anxiety. If they don't find another cause, doctors diagnose you with an anxiety disorder if your anxiety:

  • Is distressing

  • Interferes with your ability to do daily tasks and activities

  • Has lasted a long time or keeps coming back

How do doctors treat anxiety disorders?

If your anxiety is caused or made worse by a medical problem or substance use, doctors will treat that.

Doctors treat anxiety disorders with:

  • Therapy

  • Medicine, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

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