Anxiety Disorder FAQs
Most people experience feelings of anxiety before an important event such as
a big exam, business presentation, or first date. Anxiety disorders, however,
are illnesses that fill people's lives with overwhelming anxiety and fear that
are chronic, unremitting, and can grow progressively worse. Tormented by panic
attacks, obsessive thoughts, flashbacks of traumatic events, nightmares, or
countless frightening physical symptoms, some people with anxiety disorders even
How Common Are Anxiety Disorders?
Anxiety disorders, as a group, are the most common mental illness in America.
More than 19 million American adults are affected by these debilitating
illnesses each year. Children and adolescents can also develop anxiety
What Are the Different Kinds of Anxiety Disorders?
- Panic Disorder: Repeated episodes of intense fear that strike
often and without warning. Physical symptoms include chest pain, heart
palpitations, shortness of breath,
dizziness, abdominal distress, feelings
of unreality, and fear of dying.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Repeated, unwanted thoughts or
compulsive behaviors that seem impossible to stop or control.
- Posttraumatic Stress
Disorder: Persistent symptoms that occur
after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event such as rape or other
criminal assault, war, child abuse, natural or human-caused disasters, or
crashes. Nightmares, flashbacks, numbing of emotions, depression, and
feeling angry, irritable or distracted and being easily startled are common.
Family members of victims can also develop this disorder.
- Phobias: Two major types of phobias are social phobia and specific
phobia. People with social phobia have an overwhelming and disabling fear of
scrutiny, embarrassment, or humiliation in social situations, which leads to
avoidance of many potentially pleasurable and meaningful activities. People
with specific phobia experience extreme, disabling, and irrational fear of
something that poses little or no actual danger; the fear leads to avoidance
of objects or situations and can cause people to limit their lives
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Constant, exaggerated worrisome
thoughts and tension about everyday routine life events and activities,
lasting at least six months. Almost always anticipating the worst even
though there is little reason to expect it; accompanied by physical
symptoms, such as fatigue, trembling, muscle tension, headache, or nausea.
What Are Effective Treatments for Anxiety Disorders?
Treatments have been largely developed through research conducted by NIMH and
other research institutions. They help many people with anxiety disorders and
often combine 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 the
newest of these antidepressants are called selective serotonin reuptake
inhibitors (SSRIs). Other antianxiety medications include groups of drugs called
benzodiazepines and beta-blockers. If one medication is not effective, others
can be tried. New medications are currently under development to treat anxiety
Two clinically-proven effective forms of psychotherapy used to treat anxiety
disorders are behavioral therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Behavioral
therapy focuses on changing specific actions and uses several techniques to stop
unwanted behaviors. In addition to the behavioral therapy techniques,
cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches patients to understand and change their
thinking patterns so they can react differently to the situations that cause
Do Anxiety Disorders Co-Exist with Other Physical or Mental Disorders?
Last Editorial Review: 7/7/2004
It is common for an anxiety disorder to accompany depression, eating
disorders, substance abuse, or another anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can
also co-exist with illnesses such as cancer or heart disease.
In such instances,
the accompanying disorders will also need to be treated. Before beginning any
treatment, however, it is important to have a thorough medical examination to
rule out other possible causes of symptoms.
For more information, please visit the Depression Center.
Portions of the above information have been provided with the kind permission
of the National Institute of Mental Health (www.niams.nih.gov).