What is an anxiety disorder?
Anxiety is a feeling of worry, uneasiness or distress and this is a normal emotion in the course of a person’s life. In an anxiety disorder, this feeling is unwarranted and at times persistent. It can reach levels where it causes physical symptoms and affect a person’s level of functioning to the point that they cannot continue with their jobs, interact on a social basis or even complete daily tasks.
In an anxiety disorder, the feeling is not a normal response to stress – in most instances there is no stressful situation precipitating the onset of this emotion. Often patients with anxiety are also depressed.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
This is a chronic anxiety disorder, where the anxiety is persistent and the response to a situation is exaggerated. This type of anxiety disorder is often associated with depression and there are episodes or irritability or extreme anger. These patients are often confrontational compared to other types of anxiety disorders.
Somatic (physical) symptoms may include :
- Shortness of breath.
- Changes in bowel movement.
- Muscle spasm.
- General aches and pain.
- Chest pain.
- Hot flushes.
A panic disorder is usually characterized by fear with anxiety attacks and may be triggered by a situation or can occur spontaneously. It is not usually persistent as with generalized anxiety disorder and occurs in episodes from which the person will try to escape. The main physical symptoms include shortness of breath with hyperventilation, palpitations, chest pain and tingling around the mouth, lips, fingers and toes.
These symptoms are often mistaken for a heart attack or stroke and may prompt a trip to the emergency room.
This is also known as a social phobia or social anxiety disorder. In this type of anxiety disorder, there is extreme fear of a situation, which is only triggered on exposure to the situation or the prospect of facing it. The patient will usually try to avoid the situation, and can become weepy, agitated or violent if forced to stay in the situation.
Examples of a phobia disorder include agoraphobia where there is a fear of being in large crowds and claustrophobia where there is a fear of being in confined places.
The signs and symptoms may include crying, anger, irrational behaviour, hyperventilation, chest pain, dizziness, blurred vision and even fainting.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Although OCD may not seem like the anxiety disorders above, the obsessive thoughts of a person with OCD can result in severe anxiety. This condition is characterised by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessive) usually with repetitive behaviour (compulsion).
The need to complete certain tasks or rituals can be time consuming and some examples may include repeated washing of one’s hands, arranging items in a certain way repeatedly, or cleaning excessively over and over again. It is common in both men and women.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
This type of anxiety disorder starts after a terrifying experience usually where the patient was in grave harm. Victims of crime and soldiers who went to war are typical examples of a person who may suffer with post-traumatic stress disorder. The life-threatening ordeal is usually real although some patients may perceive certain events as terrifying, even if they were in no harm, and this can result in post-traumatic stress disorder.
Typical signs and symptoms include a person who is emotionally distant, has recurring nightmares and thoughts of the trigger incident or related experiences and are easily startled.