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Frequently Asked Questions about Anxiety Disorders
What are the five types of anxiety disorders that are well known?
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Panic Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Social Phobia (or Social Anxiety Disorder)
What is generalized anxiety disorder?
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is an exaggerated anxiety and tension that persists for months on end and affects approximately 6.8 million Americans or about 3.1 percent of the population. GAD causes people to anticipate catastrophe and worry excessively about many things, from overarching concerns such as health, money or work to more routine concerns such as car repairs or appointments. GAD affects twice as many women as men, and the anxiety becomes so severe, normal life and relationships become impaired.
Worries can be accompanied by physical symptoms, such as fatigue, headaches, muscle tension and aches, difficulty swallowing, trembling, twitching, irritability, sweating, and hot flashes. The disorder usually develops gradually and may begin anytime during life, although the risk is highest between childhood and middle age. It is diagnosed when someone spends at least six months worrying excessively without a specific focus of the fear and an inability to control the anxiety.
What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder marked by fearful ideas and ritualistic behaviors. Obsessions are repetitive thoughts or impulses, such as a fear of getting infected from someone else’s germs or hurting a loved one. These obsessions create excessive anxiety and stress for the person affected. Although the thoughts are intrusive and unwanted, the person with OCD cannot stop them. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors people with OCD feel compelled to perform in an attempt to control or decrease the anxiety created by the obsessions. This can include things like constantly checking that an oven is off to prevent a fire, or frequent cleaning or hand-washing to avoid contamination.
What is Panic Disorder?
Panic disorder is characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness or abdominal distress. It is characterized by sudden attacks of terror, usually accompanied by a pounding heart, sweatiness, weakness, faintness or dizziness. During these attacks, people with panic disorder may flush or feel chilled; their hands may tingle or feel numb; and they may experience nausea, chest pain or smothering sensations. Panic attacks usually produce a sense of unreality, a fear of impending doom or a fear of losing control. Panic attacks can occur at any time, even during sleep.
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. After traumatic events, such as death, an earthquake, war, car accidents, floods or fires, it is not uncommon for people to experience feelings of heightened fear, worry, sadness or anger. If the emotions persist, however, or become severe, or the person gets triggered into reliving the event in their daily life, this can affect the person’s ability to function and may be a sign of PTSD.
What is Social Phobia?
Social Phobia, or Social Anxiety Disorder, is an anxiety disorder characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. Social phobia can be limited to only one type of situation, such as a fear of speaking in formal or informal situations, or eating or drinking in front of others. In its most severe form, social phobia may be so broad that a person experiences symptoms almost anytime they are around other people.
How are anxiety disorders diagnosed?
Primary care physicians and psychiatrists diagnose someone as having an anxiety disorder if symptoms occur for six months on more days than not, and significantly interfere with the person’s ability to function at home, work or school.
Doctors perform physical and psychological evaluations to rule out other causes for the symptoms of anxiety. Cardiovascular disease, thyroid problems, menopause, substance abuse and/or drug side effects, such as from steroids, may cause symptoms similar to those of an anxiety disorder.