Experiencing occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. However, people with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Often, anxiety disorders involve repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks).
These feelings of anxiety and panic interfere with daily activities, are difficult to control, are out of proportion to the actual danger and can last a long time. You may avoid places or situations to prevent these feelings. Symptoms may start during childhood or the teen years and continue into adulthood.
Examples of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder (social phobia), specific phobias and separation anxiety disorder. You can have more than one anxiety disorder. Sometimes anxiety results from a medical condition that needs treatment.
Whatever form of anxiety you have, treatment can help.
Common anxiety signs and symptoms include:
Several types of anxiety disorders exist:
See your doctor if:
Your worries may not go away on their own, and they may get worse over time if you don't seek help. See your doctor or a mental health provider before your anxiety gets worse. It's easier to treat if you get help early.
The causes of anxiety disorders aren't fully understood. Life experiences such as traumatic events appear to trigger anxiety disorders in people who are already prone to anxiety. Inherited traits also can be a factor.
For some people, anxiety may be linked to an underlying health issue. In some cases, anxiety signs and symptoms are the first indicators of a medical illness. If your doctor suspects your anxiety may have a medical cause, he or she may order tests to look for signs of a problem.
Examples of medical problems that can be linked to anxiety include:
Sometimes anxiety can be a side effect of certain medications.
It's possible that your anxiety may be due to an underlying medical condition if:
You may start by seeing your primary care provider to find out if your anxiety could be related to your physical health. He or she can check for signs of an underlying medical condition that may need treatment.
However, you may need to see a mental health specialist if you have severe anxiety. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions. A psychologist and certain other mental health professionals can diagnose anxiety and provide counseling (psychotherapy).
To help diagnose an anxiety disorder, your mental health provider may:
Having an anxiety disorder does more than make you worry. It can also lead to, or worsen, other mental and physical conditions, such as:
There's no way to predict for certain what will cause someone to develop an anxiety disorder, but you can take steps to reduce the impact of symptoms if you're anxious:
Several herbal remedies have been studied as a treatment for anxiety, but more research is needed to understand the risks and benefits. Herbal and dietary supplements aren't monitored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the same way medications are. You can't always be certain of what you're getting and whether it's safe. Some of these supplements can interfere with prescription medications or cause dangerous interactions.
Before taking herbal remedies or dietary supplements, talk to your doctor to make sure they're safe for you and won't interact with any medications you take.
While most people with anxiety disorders need psychotherapy or medications to get anxiety under control, lifestyle changes also can make a difference. Here's what you can do:
To cope with an anxiety disorder, here's what you can do:
These factors may increase your risk of developing an anxiety disorder: