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- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) Slideshow
- What are anti-anxiety (anxiolytic) drugs?
- How do anti-anxiety drugs and benzodiazepines work (mechanism of action)?
- What are the medical uses for anti-anxiety drugs?
- What are the side effects of anti-anxiety drugs?
- What other types of drugs are used to treat anxiety?
- What natural/herbal products and supplements treat anxiety?
- Which drugs or supplements interact with anti-anxiety drugs?
- List of examples of brand and generic names available for anti-anxiety drugs
- Are anti-anxiety drugs safe to use for treating my medical condition if I am pregnant or breastfeeding?
What are anti-anxiety (anxiolytic) drugs?
Anxiolytics (also termed anti-anxiety or anti-panic drugs) are medications that are used to treat a health condition called anxiety. The type of anxiety that requires treatment is called generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). This disorder causes excessive worry and anxiety, significant distress, and affects the ability for a person to function. Moreover, the symptoms of anxiety occur on most days for at least six months. Generalized anxiety disorder is treated with psychotherapy and medications.
How do anti-anxiety drugs and benzodiazepines work (mechanism of action)?
Antidepressants reduce anxiety by increasing the concentration of chemicals (neurotransmitters) that the brain uses to communicate. These neurotransmitters include serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
Buspirone may reduce anxiety by stimulating serotonin and dopamine receptors on nerves, thereby altering the chemical messages that nerves receive.
Benzodiazepines reduce symptoms of anxiety by increasing the action of a brain chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is a chemical that nerve cells use to communicate with each other and it reduces brain activity. It is believed that excessive activity in the brain may lead to anxiety or other psychiatric disorders.
Pregabalin is an anticonvulsant. Like benzodiazepines, Pregabalin also increases the action of GABA, and this may be its main mechanism for reducing anxiety.
What are the side effects of anti-anxiety drugs?
Some common side effects of anxiolytic drugs include:
What other types of drugs are used to treat anxiety?
What natural/herbal products and supplements treat anxiety?
Herbal medicines have been studied for the treatment of anxiety. Examples of herbal medications that have been used in clinical studies for treating anxiety include:
- St. Johns’s wort
- Ginkgo biloba
- Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
- Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
- Theanine (found in green tea)
- Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
- Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
Some clinical studies suggest that some herbal medicines may reduce anxiety symptoms. However, many of these clinical studies are small, and there also are clinical studies that show that some herbs are not useful therapy for anxiety. Patients should consult their doctor and pharmacist before self-treating anxiety symptoms with herbal medications. Herbal medications are not a replacement for standard therapy for anxiety.
Based on clinical studies, the effect of magnesium supplementation on anxiety symptoms may not be better than a sugar pill. Patients should consult their doctor and pharmacist before self-treating anxiety symptoms with nutritional supplements.
Researchers have looked into the effect of Yoga on improving anxiety. Some of these small clinical studies suggest that Yoga may improve anxiety symptoms by improving the levels of GABA in the brain. Since Yoga and other types of exercise are beneficial for overall health, it may be a useful addition to standard medical therapy for anxiety.
Which drugs or supplements interact with anti-anxiety drugs?
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI) have many important drug interactions when they are used for the treatment of anxiety or other health conditions.
Patients should not take anxiolytic drugs with any of the monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) class of antidepressants or other drugs that inhibit MAOIs such as linezolid [Zyvox] and intravenous methylene blue. Examples of MAOIs include:
- isocarboxazid (Marplan)
- phenelzine (Nardil)
- tranylcypromine (Parnate)
- selegiline (Eldepryl)
- procarbazine (Matulane)
Patients that take such combinations may develop confusion, high blood pressure, tremor, hyperactivity, coma, and death. Patients may develop similar reactions if they combine SSRIs or SNRIs with other drugs that increase serotonin in the brain.
Combining SSRIs or SNRIs with warfarin, aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (for ex-ample ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or other drugs that affect bleeding may increase the likelihood of patients developing upper gastrointestinal bleeding when these drugs are used for the treatment of anxiety or other health conditions.
Other drug interactions with anxiolytics
- Combining benzodiazepines with alcohol or medications (for example, barbiturates, narcotics, other sedatives) that also suppress brain activity increases the chance of patients becoming sedated.
- Carbamazepine (Tegretol, Tegretol XR, Equetro, Carbatrol) and rifampin reduce the blood levels of some benzodiazepines and this may reduce the effect of affected benzodiazepines when they are used for the treatment of anxiety or other health conditions.
- Buspirone also interacts with MAOI class of antidepressants. Combining buspirone with warfarin (Coumadin), a blood thinner, may increase the effects of warfarin and increase the risk of bleeding in patients. Grapefruit juice increases the amount of buspirone in the blood of patients, possibly leading to side effects.
- Alcohol and drugs that cause sedation may increase the sedative effects of pregabalin.
- Combining pregabalin with pioglitazone (Actos) and rosiglitazone (Avandia) may increase the occurrence of weight gain, fluid retention, and possibly heart failure.
- Hydroxyzine increases the drying effects of other medications that have anticholinergic effects. Combining hydroxyzine with alcohol or medications that cause drowsiness increases the chance of sedation.
List of examples of brand and generic names available for anti-anxiety drugs
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Citalopram (Celexa)
- Escitalopram (Lexapro)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Fluvoxamine (Luvox)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Vilazodone (Viibryd)
Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
- Amitriptyline (Elavil)
- Clomipramine (Anafranil)
- Doxepin (Sinequan)
- Imipramine (Tofranil)
- Desipramine (Norpramin)
- Nortriptyline (Pamelor - This drug is no longer available in the US.)
- Pregabalin (Lyrica)
- Hydroxyzine (Vistaril)
- Buspirone (Buspar)
Are anti-anxiety drugs safe to use for treating my medical condition if I am pregnant or breastfeeding?
- Some studies suggest that the use of SSRIs to treat medical conditions during pregnancy may be linked to increased risk of premature births, stillbirths, birth defects, and miscarriage.
- Benzodiazepines may harm the fetus if taken by pregnant women. Benzodiazepines also can enter breast milk and can cause weakness and weight loss in the newborn.
- Some studies suggest that hydroxyzine may cause birth defects when used during pregnancy. It is not known if hydroxyzine is excreted into breast milk.
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Daily Health News
Anxiolytics (anti-anxiety, anti-panic) is a group of drug classes (for example, antidepressants, antihistamines, and benzodiazepines) that are prescribed for the treatment of anxiety disorders. Anxiolytics work (mechanism of action) depending upon to which drug class it belongs. Anxiety disorder drugs cause similar side effects, for example:
More serious side effects of anti-anxiety drugs include:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Dry mouth
- Elevated blood pressure
- Blurred vision
- Abnormal heartbeat
- Low blood pressure when standing (orthostatic hypotension)
Some natural herbal products and supplements like St. John's wort, ginkgo
biloba, valerian, lemon balm, and chamomile may be helpful in reducing anxiety.
Talk with your doctor about taking herbal or other supplement products.
Anxiolytics have several drug interactions. This type of drug is not recommended during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
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Related Disease Conditions
Anxiety is a feeling of apprehension and fear characterized by symptoms such as trouble concentrating, headaches, sleep problems, and irritability. Anxiety disorders are serious medical illnesses that affect approximately 19 million American adults. Treatment for anxiety may incorporate medications and psychotherapy.
Mental Illness in Children
About 5 million children and adolescents in the U.S. suffer from a serious mental illness such as eating disorders, anxiety disorders, disruptive behavior disorders, pervasive development disorders, elimination disorders, learning disorders, schizophrenia, tic disorders, and mood disorders. Symptoms of mental illness include frequent outbursts of anger, hyperactivity, fear of gaining weight, excessive worrying, frequent temper tantrums, and hearing voices that aren't there. Treatment may involve medication, psychotherapy, and creative therapies.
Depression in teenagers may be caused by many factors. Symptoms of teen depression include apathy, irresponsible behavior, sadness, sudden drop in grades, withdrawal from friends, and alcohol and drug use. Treatment of depression in adolescents may involve psychotherapy and medications.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a psychiatric condition, can develop after any catastrophic life event. Symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks, sweating, rapid heart rate, detachment, amnesia, sleep problems, irritability, and exaggerated startle response. Treatment may involve psychotherapy, group support, and medication.
Phobias are unrelenting fears of activities (social phobias), situations (agoraphobia), and specific items (arachnophobia). There is thought to be a hereditary component to phobias, though there may be a cultural influence or they may be triggered by life events. Symptoms and signs of phobias include having a panic attack, shaking, breathing troubles, rapid heartbeat, and a strong desire to escape the situation. Treatment of phobias typically involves desensitization, cognitive behavioral therapy, and medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and beta-blockers.
Depression is an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts and affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about things. The principal types of depression are major depression, dysthymia, and bipolar disease (also called manic-depressive disease).
Depression in Children
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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
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Bipolar Disorder vs. Schizophrenia
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Separation anxiety disorder is a common childhood anxiety disorder that has many causes. Infants, children, older kids and adults can suffer from symptoms of separation anxiety disorder. Common separation anxiety treatment methods include therapy and medications. Factors that contribute to how quickly or successfully a child moves past separation anxiety by preschool age include: how well the parent and child reunite, the skills the child and adult have at coping with the separation, and how well the adult responds to the infant's separation issues. For example, children of anxious parents tend to be anxious children.
Mental illness is any disease or condition affecting the brain that influence the way a person thinks, feels, behaves, and/or relates to others. Mental illness is caused by heredity, biology, psychological trauma and environmental stressors.
Mental health is an optimal way of thinking, relating to others, and feeling. All of the diagnosable mental disorders fall under the umbrella of mental illness. Depression, anxiety, and substance-abuse disorders are common types of mental illness. Symptoms and signs of mental illness include irritability, moodiness, insomnia, headaches, and sadness. Treatment may involve psychotherapy and medication.
Agoraphobia is a fear of being outside or of being in a situation from which escape would be impossible. Symptoms include anxiety, fear, disorientation, rapid heartbeat, diarrhea, or dizziness. Treatment may incorporate psychotherapy, self-exposure to the anxiety-causing situation, and medications such as SSRIs, benzodiazepines, and beta-blockers.
Depression in the Elderly
Depression in the elderly is very common. That doesn't mean, though, it's normal. Treatment may involve antidepressants, psychotherapy, or electroconvulsive therapy.
Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens
Bipolar disorder, or manic-depressive illness, is a disorder that causes unusual and extreme mood changes. Symptoms of bipolar disorder in children and teens include having trouble concentrating, behaving in risky ways, and losing interest in activities they once enjoyed. Treatment for bipolar disorder in children and teenagers incorporates psychotherapy and medications.
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Treatment & Diagnosis
Medications & Supplements
- Antidepressants (Depression Medications)
- Benzodiazepines (Benzodiazepine Drug Class)
- Zoloft (sertraline)
- Lexapro (escitalopram)
- clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Citalopram (Celexa)
- Lyrica (pregabalin)
- Cymbalta (duloxetine)
- diazepam (Valium, Diastat, Acudial, Diastat Pediatric, Diazepam Intensol)
- lorazepam (Ativan)
- Drugs: Questions to Ask Your Doctor or Pharmacist about Your Drugs
- amitriptyline (Elavil, Endep)
- fluvoxamine (Luvox)
- venlafaxine, Effexor XR (Effexor has been discontinued in the US)
- paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
- fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem, Prozac Weekly)
- Drug Interactions
- Ativan (lorazepam) vs. Valium (diazepam)
- ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
- nortriptyline (Pamelor)
- desvenlafaxine (Pristiq, Khedezla)
- clomipramine (Anafranil)
- green tea (camellia sinensis) - oral
- Ativan vs. Xanax
- doxepin (Sinequan and Adapin are discontinued brand in the US; Silenor)
- oxazepam (Serax, Zaxopam)
- tricyclic antidepressants-oral, injection
- Hydroxyzine vs. Valium
- Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
- Klonopin (clonazepam) vs. Xanax (alprazolam)
- valerian (valeriana officinalis) - oral
- kava (piper methysticum) - oral
- desipramine (Norpramin)
- imipramine (Tofranil)
- Aldactone (spironolactone) Side Effects, Interactions, and Warnings
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Elham A, Mirna H, Mena H, et al. Dietary and botanical anxiolytics. Med Sci Monit. 2012; 18(4): RA40–RA48.
Shaheen L, Karen V. Nutritional and herbal supplements for anxiety and anxiety-related disor-ders: systematic review. Nutr J. 2010; 9:42
Li W, Goldsmith A. The effects of yoga on anxiety and stress. Altern Med Rev. 2012 Mar;17(1):21-35.