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Anxiety Disorders

- Summary
- About anxiety disorders
- Types and differences
- Risk factors and causes
- Signs and symptoms
- Diagnosis methods
- Treatment options
- Prevention methods
- Questions for your doctor

Reviewed By:
Steven A. King, M.D.
Tahir Tellioglu, M.D., APA, AAAP


Anxiety disorders are mental illnesses in which patients feel excessive anxiety, fear or distress during situations in which most other people would not experience these symptoms. Normally, anxiety is part of the body’s alarm system, alerting a person to danger or providing extra energy to help accomplish a task. However, people with anxiety disorders experience disabling anxiety and distress that dramatically reduces their productivity and significantly diminishes their quality of life and ability to function on a daily basis.

Anxiety is also a symptom of other mental health disorders, physical conditions and a side effect of some medications and substances including alcohol and recreational drugs. An anxiety disorder is diagnosed when anxiety is the main symptom that requires help from a mental health professional.

Anxiety disorders are among the nation’s most common mental disorders, according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. There are five major categories of anxiety disorders, including:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder. Diagnosed when a person worries excessively about all types of life issues (e.g., health, family, money, work) for more than six months.

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder. Diagnosed when a person is unable to control intrusive and unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or to stop performing ritual actions (compulsions), such as repetitive handwashing.

  • Panic disorder. Diagnosed when a person regularly experiences panic attacks – sudden episodes of fear and anxiety that usually last for between 10 and 30 minutes and cause physical symptoms such as racing heartbeat, heavy perspiration and shortness of breath.

  • Phobias. Diagnosed when a person has extreme and irrational fear of objects or situations that in actuality pose little or no threat to them.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder. Diagnosed when a patient who has experienced an extremely traumatic event such as war, rape, child abuse or a natural disaster later begins to have nightmares, flashbacks, depression and/or other symptoms.
The exact cause of most anxiety disorders is unknown. However, a combination of psychological, biological, genetic and environmental factors may be responsible. Patients diagnosed with anxiety disorders have several effective treatment options. In many cases, a combination of psychotherapy and medications is the best treatment.

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Review Date: 08-22-2007

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