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Common Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
Each anxiety disorder has unique symptoms. Anxiety disorders are typically diagnosed when fear of non-threatening situations, places, events, or objects becomes extreme and uncontrollable. An anxiety disorder may also be diagnosed if you have general feelings of fear or worry that interfere with your daily life and have lasted at least six months.
Most people with an anxiety disorder have a combination of physical and psychological symptoms. There is one symptom that all anxiety disorders have in common: near-constant fear or worry about things that may happen to you now or in the future. Read on to learn about the symptoms and how to diagnose anxiety disorders.
What Are the Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders?
Psychological symptoms may include:
• Feelings of apprehension or dread
• Feeling restless or irritable
• Feeling tense or jumpy
• Anticipating the worst
• Constantly watching for signs of danger
Physical symptoms may include:
• Rapid or pounding heartbeat
• Shortness of breath
• Excessive sweating
• Tremors or twitches
• Fatigue or weakness
• Nausea or upset stomach
• Frequent urination or diarrhea
What Are the Symptoms of Anxiety or Panic Attacks?
What we think of as anxiety attacks are actually panic attacks. A panic attack is the sudden onset of intense fear or discomfort that peaks after about ten minutes, and it typically lasts no longer than 30 minutes. It also involves four or more of the following symptoms:
• Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
• Trembling or shaking
• Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
• Feelings of choking
• Chest pain or discomfort
• Nausea or abdominal distress
• Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
• Chills or heat sensations
• Parasthesia (numbness or tingling sensations)
• Derealisation (feelings of unreality) or depersonalisation (being detached from oneself)
• Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
• Fear of dying
Researchers think that panic attacks come about because the brain is telling the body that the fight-or-flight response, which includes a rapid heartbeat and shallow breathing, should kick in, even though there may be no threat at all. Scientists also theorise that the amygdala, which is the brain’s fear processing hub, may also be activated during a panic attack.
Panic attacks may come on because of a particular event, or they may come on for no reason at all. It’s been estimated that almost 23% of people will have at least one panic attack in their lifetime.
If your panic attacks are recurring, you are likely to be diagnosed with panic disorder. Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that’s characterised by persistent worry about future panic attacks or their consequences. Experts say that panic attacks do not have to be feared. By learning to correctly interpret bodily sensations and not relate to them as dangerous, your fear level can go down.
When Are Anxiety Symptoms Not a Sign of Anxiety?
Some of the physical symptoms of an anxiety disorder may be symptoms of other medical conditions, such as:
• Heart disease
• Lyme disease
• Alzheimer’s disease
• Parkinson’s disease
Anxiety often co-exists with other chronic health conditions, including:
• Hepatitis C
• Multiple sclerosis
• Rheumatoid arthritis
Researchers are not sure why anxiety and conditions like these occur together, but one explanation may be that the stress of dealing with a chronic illness could contribute to developing a mood disorder. It could also be that anxiety is a precursor to the kind of cognitive decline at the center of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. It’s been estimated that anxiety disorders are present in 5-21% of those with dementia.
In a Swedish study published in 2015 in Alzheimer’s and Dementia researchers found that higher levels of anxiety was associated with an increased risk of developing dementia. A study in 2017 found that anxiety, along with depression and sleep disturbances, was associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers believe that the stress hormone cortisol may be at work in this connection. Whenever you become anxious or stressed, you induce a flood of the stress hormone cortisol, and it may be that a consistent presence of the hormone may damage parts of the brain that process memory and executive functioning.
It’s important to see your doctor if any changes in your mood or health are concerning you. Your doctor can help you determine what disorder or medical condition you may be suffering from, and what assistance you might need.
How Is Anxiety Disorder Diagnosed?
Here’s what you might be able to expect when you visit your doctor:
• Your doctor or nurse will ask you questions about your symptoms.
• Your doctor may perform a physical exam and order lab tests to rule out other health problems.
• If no other health problems are found, your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist to make a diagnosis.
• A psychiatrist or psychologist will identify the specific type of anxiety disorder that’s causing your symptoms.
• This doctor will also look for any other mental health conditions that you may be experiencing, including depression.
What Makes Anxiety Symptoms Worse?
Caffeine, alcohol, and some over-the-counter cold medicines — particularly decongestants — can amplify and aggravate anxiety symptoms.