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Anxiety


Anxiety is a state of uneasiness or apprehension. Anxiety disorder is a chronic psychological condition characterised by overwhelming feelings of anxiety, fear, and physical symptoms such as palpitations and sweating.
Anxiety

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Watch the anxiety video Causes of anxiety
Symptoms of anxiety Diagnosis of anxiety
Related terms Common misspellings

                   

Did you know?
  • Anxiety disorders affect 5% of the population
  • More women suffer with generalised anxiety disorder than men
  • People with one type of anxiety disorder often have a second type
  • Anxiety disorders typically begin in childhood, adolescence and early adulthood
  • Soldiers with 'shell shock' in World War II were actually suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder


As with many mental health conditions the causes of anxiety are unclear. Many healthcare professionals believe anxiety is caused by a combination of factors. Anxiety disorders can run in the family or develop after an emotional trauma or event. An imbalance of chemicals in the brain can also cause anxiety disorders.

A tendency to develop anxiety disorders may be passed on through the genes. Family history increases the likelihood that a person will suffer with anxiety. Abnormal levels of serotonin and norepinephrine (the brain's neurotransmitters) can affect mood and anxiety. Environmental stresses and social circumstances can cause anxiety disorders. Times of stress or emotional trauma such as bereavement, divorce and abuse play a major role in the development of anxiety-related conditions or can aggravate an existing condition.


Anxiety can cause different physical and psychological symptoms depending on the type of anxiety disorder. There are typically five forms of anxiety disorder: panic disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and generalised anxiety disorder.

Panic disorder symptoms occur during an 'attack' and include shortness of breath, palpitations, sweating, trembling, dizziness, nausea, chills, hot flushes and a feeling of being disconnected from the outside world. People with a panic disorder often feel they are having a heart-attack.

Phobias are fears of specific social situations, activities, people or objects. The symptoms of stress cause the sufferer to go to extreme lengths to avoid their fear. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have an intense preoccupation with things and suffer irrational thoughts. OCD sufferers use repetitive behaviour to minimise the effects of their obsessions and their behaviour can include repeated hand washing, placing items in a rigid order and persistent rechecking to satisfy doubt.

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms occur after a severe physical or emotional event. Sufferers tend to have nightmares or flashbacks in which they relive the event again. Symptoms of post-traumatic stress include numbness, sleep loss, irritability and edginess. Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is the most common form of anxiety and symptoms include restlessness, lack of concentration, feelings of dread, impatience, dizziness, lethargy, palpitations, breathlessness and sweating.


Anxiety disorders are diagnosed when symptoms have been present for six months or more. If anxiety is affecting day-to-day life or causing distress then talking about the problem during a visit to a GP can help to diagnose the problem. Talking about feelings, emotions and behaviour can be difficult but it is important that the GP has a full understanding of the problem so an accurate diagnosis can be made.

A GP may also carry out a physical examination to determine if another condition is the cause of the problem.




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