Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorder
Classification and external resources
10 9 DiseasesDB eMedicine MeSH D001008

Anxiety disorder is an umbrella term that covers several different forms of a type of common psychiatric disorder, characterized by excessive rumination, worrying, uneasiness, apprehension and fear about future uncertainties either based on real or imagined events, which may affect both physical and psychological health. The disorders once classified as neuroses are now considered anxiety disorders.[1][2] There are numerous psychiatric and medical syndromes which may mimic the symptoms of an anxiety disorder such as hyperthyroidism which may be misdiagnosed as generalized anxiety disorder.

Individuals diagnosed with an anxiety disorder may be classified in one of two categories; based on whether they experience continuous or episodic symptoms.

Current psychiatric diagnostic criteria recognize a wide variety of anxiety disorders. Recent surveys have shown that as many as 18% of Americans and 14% of Europeans may be affected by one or more of them.[3]

The term anxiety covers four aspects of experiences that an individual may have: mental apprehension, physical tension, physical symptoms and dissociative anxiety.[4] Anxiety disorder is divided into generalized anxiety disorder, phobic disorder, and panic disorder; each has its own characteristics and symptoms and they require different treatment (Gelder et al. 2005). The emotions present in anxiety disorders range from simple nervousness to bouts of terror (Barker 2003).

Standardized screening clinical questionnaires such as the Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale or the Zung Self-Rating Anxiety Scale can be used to detect anxiety symptoms, and suggest the need for a formal diagnostic assessment of anxiety disorder.[5]


Generalized anxiety disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a common, chronic disorder characterized by long-lasting anxiety that is not focused on any one object or situation. Those suffering from generalized anxiety disorder experience non-specific persistent fear and worry, and become overly concerned with everyday matters. According to Schacter, Gilbert, and Wegner's book Psychology: Second Edition, generalized anxiety disorder is "characterized by chronic excessive worry accompanied by three or more of the following symptoms: restlessness, fatigue, concentration problems, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep disturbance".[6] Generalized anxiety disorder is the most common anxiety disorder to affect older adults.[7] Anxiety can be a symptom of a medical or substance abuse problem, and medical professionals must be aware of this. A diagnosis of GAD is made when a person has been excessively worried about an everyday problem for six months or more.[8] A person may find they have problems making daily decisions and remembering commitments as a result of lack of concentration/preoccupation with worry.[9] Appearance looks strained, with increased sweating from the hands, feet, and axillae. May be tearful which can suggest depression.[10] Before a diagnosis of anxiety disorder is made, physicians must rule out drug-induced anxiety and other medical causes.[11]


Main article: Phobia

The single largest category of anxiety disorders is that of phobic disorders, which includes all cases in which fear and anxiety is triggered by a specific stimulus or situation. Between 5% and 12% of the population worldwide suffer from phobic disorders.[8] Sufferers typically anticipate terrifying consequences from encountering the object of their fear, which can be anything from an animal to a location to a bodily fluid to a particular situation. Sufferers understand that their fear is not proportional to the actual potential danger but still are overwhelmed by the fear.[12]

Panic disorder

Main article: Panic disorder

With panic disorder, a person suffers from brief attacks of intense terror and apprehension, often marked by trembling, shaking, confusion, dizziness, nausea, and/or difficulty breathing. These panic attacks, defined by the APA as fear or discomfort that abruptly arises and peaks in less than ten minutes, can last for several hours. Attacks can be triggered by stress, fear, or even exercise; the specific cause is not always apparent.

In addition to recurrent unexpected panic attacks, a diagnosis of panic disorder requires that said attacks have chronic consequences: either worry over the attacks' potential implications, persistent fear of future attacks, or significant changes in behavior related to the attacks. Accordingly, those suffering from panic disorder experience symptoms even outside specific panic episodes. Often, normal changes in heartbeat are noticed by a panic sufferer, leading them to think something is wrong with their heart or they are about to have another panic attack. In some cases, a heightened awareness (hypervigilance) of body functioning occurs during panic attacks, wherein any perceived physiological change is interpreted as a possible life-threatening illness (i.e., extreme hypochondriasis).


Main article: Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is the specific anxiety about being in a place or situation where escape is difficult or embarrassing or where help may be unavailable.[13] Agoraphobia is strongly linked with panic disorder and is often precipitated by the fear of having a panic attack. A common manifestation involves needing to be in constant view of a door or other escape route. In addition to the fears themselves, the term agoraphobia is often used to refer to avoidance behaviors that sufferers often develop. For example, following a panic attack while driving, someone suffering from agoraphobia may develop anxiety over driving and will therefore avoid driving. These avoidance behaviors can often have serious consequences.

Social anxiety disorder

Social anxiety disorder (SAD; also known as social phobia) describes an intense fear and avoidance of negative public scrutiny, public embarrassment, humiliation, or social interaction. This fear can be specific to particular social situations (such as public speaking) or, more typically, is experienced in most (or all) social interactions. Social anxiety often manifests specific physical symptoms, including blushing, sweating, and difficulty speaking. As with all phobic disorders, those suffering from social anxiety often will attempt to avoid the source of their anxiety; in the case of social anxiety this is particularly problematic, and in severe cases can lead to complete social isolation.

Obsessive–compulsive disorder

Obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder primarily characterized by repetitive obsessions (distressing, persistent, and intrusive thoughts or images) and compulsions (urges to perform specific acts or rituals). It affects roughly around 3% of the population worldwide.[8] The OCD thought pattern may be likened to superstitions insofar as it involves a belief in a causative relationship where, in reality, one does not exist. Often the process is entirely illogical; for example, the compulsion of walking in a certain pattern may be employed to alleviate the obsession of impending harm. And in many cases, the compulsion is entirely inexplicable, simply an urge to complete a ritual triggered by nervousness.

In a slight minority of cases, sufferers of OCD may only experience obsessions, with no overt compulsions; a much smaller number of sufferers experience only compulsions.[14]

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder which results from a traumatic experience. Post-traumatic stress can result from an extreme situation, such as combat, natural disaster, rape, hostage situations, child abuse, bullying or even a serious accident. It can also result from long term (chronic) exposure to a severe stressor,[15] for example soldiers who endure individual battles but cannot cope with continuous combat. Common symptoms include hypervigilance, flashbacks, avoidant behaviors, anxiety, anger and depression.[14] There are a number of treatments which form the basis of the care plan for those suffering with PTSD. Such treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychotherapy and support from family and friends.[8]

Separation anxiety

Main article: Separation anxiety disorder

Separation anxiety disorder (SepAD) is the feeling of excessive and inappropriate levels of anxiety over being separated from a person or place. Separation anxiety is a normal part of development in babies or children, and it is only when this feeling is excessive or inappropriate that it can be considered a disorder.[16] Separation anxiety disorder affects roughly 7% of adults and 4% of children, but the childhood cases tend to be more severe; in some instances, even a brief separation can produce panic.[17][18]

Situational Anxiety

Situational anxiety is caused by new situations or changing events. It can also be caused by various events that make that particular individual uncomfortable. Its occurrence is very common. Often, an individual will experience panic attacks or extreme anxiety in specific situations. A situation that causes one individual to experience anxiety may not affect another individual, at all. For example, some people become uneasy in crowds or tight spaces, so standing in a tightly packed line, say at the bank or a store register, may cause them to experience extreme anxiety, possibly a panic attack.[19] Others, however, may experience anxiety when major changes in life occur, such as entering college, getting married, having children, etc.

Treatment of situational anxiety can be similar to that of other anxiety disorders. Often, a combination of medications and psychotherapy or counseling is recommended.[20] Medications usually include benzodiazepines or selective seratonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRI’s. The most popular benzodiazepines include Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, and Ativan.[21] The most commonly prescribed SSRI’s are Lexapro, Celexa, Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, and Symbyax.[22] However, depending on the degree of anxiety, counseling or psychotherapy alone can be sufficient. The overall purpose of counseling or psychotherapy is to determine when the anxiety began, what situation(s) caused it, why the situation(s) caused it, and how to prevent it from happening again. Other treatments for situational anxiety include relaxation techniques and hobbies. Exercising and participation in sports has been proven to relieve stress, which is typically the rooted cause of the anxiety. Yoga is a popular option because not only is it a form of exercise, but it also assists with relaxation and meditation. Hypnosis is a more alternative form of treatment.[20]

Childhood anxiety disorders

Children as well as adults experience feelings of anxiety, worry, and fear when facing different situations, especially those involving new experiences. However, if anxiety is no longer temporary and begins to interfere with the child's normal functioning or do harm to their learning, the problem may be diagnosed as more than just the ordinary anxiety typical in children.[23]

When children suffer from a severe anxiety disorder, their thinking, decision-making ability, perceptions of the environment, learning and concentration may be affected. They not only experience fear, nervousness, and shyness but also may start avoiding places and activities. Anxiety raises blood pressure and heart rate and can cause nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, ulcers, diarrhea, tingling, weakness, and shortness of breath.[24] Some other symptoms are self-doubt and self-criticism, irritability, sleep problems and, in extreme cases, thoughts of not wanting to be alive.

If these children are left untreated, they face risks such as poor results at school, avoidance of important social activities, and substance abuse. Children who suffer from an anxiety disorder are likely to suffer other disorders such as depression, eating disorders, attention deficit disorders both hyperactive and inattentive, and obsessive compulsive disorders[25]

Research in this area is difficult to perform because as children grow their fears change, making it difficult for researchers to obtain enough data and thus more reliable results. Between the ages of six and eight, children's fear of the dark and imaginary creatures decreases, but they become more anxious about school performance and social relationships. If children experience an excessive amount of anxiety during this stage, this could lead to development of anxiety disorders later in life.[26]

Childhood anxiety disorders are caused by biological and psychological factors. Several studies have shown that maternal overcontrol is related to higher levels of child anxiety.[27] Stress can also trigger anxiety disorders. Children and adolescents with anxiety disorders have an increased physical and psychological reaction to stress. Their reaction to danger, even if it is a small one, is quicker and stronger.[28]

Many of the same anxiety disorders that affect adults affect children as well. A common anxiety disorder in children is school phobia, which in some cases can be a type of separation anxiety. Sometimes the anxiety has no obvious cause. In other instances, the child may experience bullying from classmates, or even a teacher. They could also be stressed from the workload they are given. School phobia may also be a form of social phobia, also known as social anxiety. Children with this disorder may avoid speaking in front of their classmates or meeting new people. Typically, social phobia in children is caused by some traumatic event, such as not knowing an answer when called on in class.[29]

Like adults, children may suffer from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The symptoms for both disorders are the same in children as they are in adults. If a child has GAD, they may worry about anything, even if it is seemingly minor. They long for attention, approval, and encouragement from others. The only difference is they are more likely to worry about things that relate to them. Those things may include, grades, bullies, getting hurt, storms, etc. The symptoms of OCD include repetitive and/or compulsive behaviors.[30]

It is more common for children whose parents have anxiety disorders to attain an anxiety disorder than it is for children whose parents do not have anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders are also more common among little girls than among little boys.[31]

Several methods of treatment have been found to be effective in treating childhood anxiety disorders. Like adults, children may undergo psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, or counseling. They may still be given medication such as SSRIs, but in much smaller doses. However, administering potent medications like antidepressants to children is controversial. As a result, other forms of treatment have become increasingly popular. Family therapy is a form of treatment in which the child meets with a therapist together with the primary guardians and siblings. Each family member may attend individual therapy, but family therapy is typically a form of group therapy. Art and play therapy are also used. Art therapy is most commonly used when the child will not or cannot verbally communicate, due to trauma or a disability in which they are nonverbal. Participating in art activities allows the child to express what they otherwise may not be able to communicate to others.[32] In play therapy, the child is allowed to play however they please as a therapist observes them. The therapist may intercede from time to time with a question, comment, or suggestion. This is often most effective when the family of the child plays a significant role in the treatment.[33]



Low levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that reduces activity in the central nervous system, contribute to anxiety. A number of anxiolytics achieve their effect by modulating the GABA receptors.[34][35][36]

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, the drugs most commonly used to treat depression, are frequently considered as a first line treatment for anxiety disorders.[37] A 2004 study using functional brain imaging techniques suggests that the effects of SSRIs in alleviating anxiety may result from a direct action on GABA neurons rather than as a secondary consequence of mood improvement.[38]

Severe anxiety and depression can be induced by sustained alcohol abuse which in most cases abates with prolonged abstinence. Even moderate, sustained alcohol use may increase anxiety and depression levels in some individuals.[39] Caffeine, alcohol and benzodiazepine dependence can worsen or cause anxiety and panic attacks.[40] Anxiety commonly occurs during the acute withdrawal phase of alcohol and can persist for up to 2 years as part of a post-acute withdrawal syndrome, in about a quarter of people recovering from alcoholism.[41] In one study in 1988–1990, illness in approximately half of patients attending mental health services at one British hospital psychiatric clinic, for conditions including anxiety disorders such as panic disorder or social phobia, was determined to be the result of alcohol or benzodiazepine dependence. In these patients, an initial increase in anxiety occurred during the withdrawal period followed by a cessation of their anxiety symptoms.[42]

There is evidence that chronic exposure to organic solvents in the work environment can be associated with anxiety disorders. Painting, varnishing and carpet-laying are some of the jobs in which significant exposure to organic solvents may occur.[43]

People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (sometimes considered an anxiety disorder), evince increased grey matter volumes in bilateral lenticular nuclei, extending to the caudate nuclei, while decreased grey matter volumes in bilateral dorsal medial frontal/anterior cingulate gyri.[44][45] These findings contrast with those in people with other anxiety disorders, who evince decreased (rather than increased) grey matter volumes in bilateral lenticular/caudate nuclei, while also decreased grey matter volumes in bilateral dorsal medial frontal/anterior cingulate gyri.[45] Alterations of circadian rhythms associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder have recently come into the focus of research.[46]

Ingestion of caffeine may cause or exacerbate anxiety disorders.[47][48] A number of clinical studies have shown a positive association between caffeine and anxiogenic effects and/or panic disorder.[49][50][51] Anxiety sufferers can have high caffeine sensitivity.[52][53][54][55][56]


The amygdala is central to the processing of fear and anxiety, and its function may be disrupted in anxiety disorders.[57] Sensory information enters the amygdala through the nuclei of the basolateral complex (consisting of lateral, basal, and accessory basal nuclei). The basolateral complex processes sensory-related fear memories and communicates their threat importance to memory and sensory processing elsewhere in the brain, such as the medial prefrontal cortex and sensory cortices.

Another important area is the adjacent central nucleus of the amygdala, which controls species-specific fear responses, via connections to the brainstem, hypothalamus, and cerebellum areas. In those with general anxiety disorder, these connections functionally seem to be less distinct, with greater gray matter in the central nucleus. Another difference is that the amygdala areas have decreased connectivity with the insula and cingulate areas that control general stimulus salience, while having greater connectivity with the parietal cortex and prefrontal cortex circuits that underlie executive functions.[57]

The latter suggests a compensation strategy for dysfunctional amygdala processing of anxiety. Researchers have noted "Amygdalofrontoparietal coupling in generalized anxiety disorder patients may ... reflect the habitual engagement of a cognitive control system to regulate excessive anxiety."[57] This is consistent with cognitive theories that suggest the use in this disorder of attempts to reduce the involvement of emotions with compensatory cognitive strategies.

Clinical and animal studies suggest a correlation between anxiety disorders and difficulty in maintaining balance.[58][59][60][61] A possible mechanism is malfunction in the parabrachial area, a brain structure that, among other functions, coordinates signals from the amygdala with input concerning balance.[62]

Anxiety processing in the basolateral amygdala has been implicated with dendritic arborization of the amygdaloid neurons. SK2 potassium channels mediate inhibitory influence on action potentials and reduce arborization. By overexpressing SK2 in the basolateral amygdala, anxiety in experimental animals can be reduced together with general levels of stress-induced corticosterone secretion.[63]


Anxiety disorders can arise in response to life stresses such as financial worries or chronic physical illness. Somewhere between 4% and 10% of older adults are diagnosed with anxiety disorder, a figure that is probably an underestimate due to the tendency of adults to minimize psychiatric problems or to focus on their physical manifestations. Anxiety is also common among older people who have dementia. On the other hand, anxiety disorder is sometimes misdiagnosed among older adults when doctors misinterpret symptoms of a physical ailment (for instance, racing heartbeat due to cardiac arrhythmia) as signs of anxiety.[7]

Evolutionary considerations

While anxiety arose as an adaptation, in modern times it is almost always thought of negatively in the context of anxiety disorders. People with these disorders have highly sensitive systems; hence, their systems tend to overreact to seemingly harmless stimuli. Sometimes anxiety disorders occur in those who have had traumatic youths, demonstrating an increased prevalence of anxiety when it appears a child will have a difficult future.[64] In these cases, the disorder arises as a way to predict that the individual’s environment will continue to pose threats.

Persistence of anxiety

At a low level, anxiety is not a bad thing. In fact, the hormonal response to anxiety has evolved as a benefit, as it helps humans react to dangers. Researchers in evolutionary medicine believe this adaptation allows humans to realize there is a potential threat and to act accordingly in order to ensure greatest possibility of protection. It has actually been shown that those with low levels of anxiety have a greater risk of death than those with average levels . This is because the absence of fear can lead to injury or death.[64] Additionally, patients with both anxiety and depression were found to have lower morbidity than those with depression alone.[65] The functional significance of the symptoms associated with anxiety includes: greater alertness, quicker preparation for action, and reduced probability of missing threats.[65] In the wild, vulnerable individuals, for example those who are hurt or pregnant, have a lower threshold for anxiety response, making them more alert.[65] This demonstrates a lengthy evolutionary history of the anxiety response.

Evolutionary mismatch

It has been theorized that high rates of anxiety are a reaction to how the social environment has changed from the Paleolithic era. For example, in the Stone Age there was greater skin-to-skin contact and more handling of babies by their mothers, both which are strategies that reduce anxiety.[64] Additionally, there is greater interaction with strangers in present times as opposed to interactions solely between close-knit tribes. Researchers posit the lack of constant social interaction, especially in the formative years, is a driving cause of high rates of anxiety. Many current cases are likely to have resulted from an evolutionary mismatch, which has been specifically been termed a “psychopathogical mismatch.” In evolutionary terms, a mismatch occurs when an individual possesses traits that were adapted for an environment that differs from the individual’s current environment (see Mismatch Theory). For example, even though an anxiety reaction may have been evolved to help with life-threatening situations, for highly sensitized individuals in Westernized cultures simply hearing bad news can elicit a strong reaction in sensitive individuals.[66]

Evolutionary theory for treatment

An evolutionary perspective may provide insight into alternatives to current clinical treatment methods for anxiety disorders. Simply knowing some anxiety is beneficial may alleviate some of the panic associated with mild conditions. Some researchers believe that, in theory, anxiety can be mediated by reducing a patient’s feeling of vulnerability and then changing their appraisal of the situation.[66]


Focus is increasing on prevention of anxiety disorders.[67] There is tentative evidence to support the use of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT).[67]


Anxiety disorders are often debilitating chronic conditions, which can be present from an early age or begin suddenly after a triggering event. They are prone to flare up at times of high stress and are frequently accompanied by physiological symptoms such as headache, sweating, muscle spasms, tachycardia, palpitations, and hypertension, which in some cases lead to fatigue or even exhaustion.

In casual discourse the words "anxiety" and "fear" are often used interchangeably; in clinical usage, they have distinct meanings: "anxiety" is defined as an unpleasant emotional state for which the cause is either not readily identified or perceived to be uncontrollable or unavoidable, whereas "fear" is an emotional and physiological response to a recognized external threat. The term "anxiety disorder" includes fears (phobias) as well as anxieties.

Anxiety disorders are often comorbid with other mental disorders, particularly clinical depression, which may occur in as many as 60% of people with anxiety disorders. The fact that there is considerable overlap between symptoms of anxiety and depression, and that the same environmental triggers can provoke symptoms in either condition, may help to explain this high rate of comorbidity.[68]

Studies have also indicated that anxiety disorders are more likely among those with family history of anxiety disorders, especially certain types.[69]

Sexual dysfunction often accompanies anxiety disorders, although it is difficult to determine whether anxiety causes the sexual dysfunction or whether they arise from a common cause. The most common manifestations in individuals with anxiety disorder are avoidance of intercourse, premature ejaculation or erectile dysfunction among men and pain during intercourse among women. Sexual dysfunction is particularly common among people affected by panic disorder (who may fear that a panic attack will occur during sexual arousal) and posttraumatic stress disorder.[70]


The most important clinical point to emerge from studies of social anxiety disorder is the benefit of early diagnosis and treatment. Social anxiety disorder remains under-recognized in primary care practice, with patients often presenting for treatment only after the onset of complications such as clinical depression or substance abuse disorders.

Treatment options available include lifestyle changes; psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy; and pharmaceutical therapy. Education, reassurance and some form of cognitive-behavioral therapy should almost always be used in treatment. Research has provided evidence for the efficacy of two forms of treatment available for social phobia: certain medications and a specific form of short-term psychotherapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), the central component being gradual exposure therapy. Self-help books can contribute to the treatment of people with anxiety disorders.[71] Light therapy is used for anxiety caused by seasonal affective disorder.[72]


Research has shown that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be highly effective for several anxiety disorders, particularly panic disorder and social phobia.[73] CBT, as its name suggests, has two main components: cognitive and behavioral. In cases of social anxiety, the cognitive component can help the patient question how they can be so sure that others are continually watching and harshly judging him or her. The behavioral component seeks to change people's reactions to anxiety-provoking situations.

As such it serves as a logical extension of cognitive therapy, whereby people are shown proof in the real world that their dysfunctional thought processes are unrealistic. A key element of this component is gradual exposure, in which the patient is confronted by the things they fear in a structured, sensitive manner. Gradual exposure is an inherently unpleasant technique; ideally it involves exposure to a feared social situation that is anxiety provoking but bearable, for as long as possible, two to three times a week. Often, a hierarchy of feared steps is constructed and the patient is exposed to each step sequentially.

The aim is to learn from acting differently and observing reactions. This is intended to be done with support and guidance, and when the therapist and patient feel they are ready. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for social phobia also includes anxiety management training, which may include techniques such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises, which may be practiced 'in-situ'. CBT can also be conducted partly in group sessions, facilitating the sharing of experiences, a sense of acceptance by others and undertaking behavioral challenges in a trusted environment (Heimberg).

Some studies have suggested social skills training can help with social anxiety.[74] However, it is not clear whether specific social skills techniques and training are required, rather than just support with general social functioning and exposure to social situations.[75]

Additionally, a recent study has suggested that interpersonal therapy, a form of psychotherapy primarily used to treat depression, may also be effective in the treatment of social phobia.[76]

There is no evidence that general counseling, psychodynamic therapy, psychoanalytic therapy, hypnotherapy, or transactional analysis are of any benefit in obsessive-compulsive disorder.[77]


When medication is indicated, SSRIs are generally recommended as first line agents, SNRIs are also effective but may be associated with withdrawal and adverse effects. Nortriptyline is associated with higher relapse due to its toxic metabolite. Benzodiazepines are also sometimes indicated for short-term or PRN use. They are usually considered as a second-line treatment due to disadvantages such as cognitive impairment and due to their risks of dependence and withdrawal problems.[78] MAOIs such as phenelzine (Nardil) and tranylcypromine (Parnate) are considered an effective treatment and are especially useful in treatment-resistant cases, however, dietary restrictions and medical interactions may limit their use.[79][80] There is evidence that certain newer medications including the GABA analogue pregabalin (Lyrica) and the novel antidepressant mirtazapine (Remeron) are effective treatments for anxiety disorders.[81][82] TCAs such as imipramine, as well as atypical antipsychotics such as quetiapine, and piperazines such as hydroxyzine are occasionally prescribed.[83] In children and adolescents, when a medication option is warranted, antidepressants such as SSRIs, SNRIs as well as tricyclic antidepressants can be effective as well as efficacious. Buspar is not effective or efficacious in children and adolescents who have an anxiety disorder.[84]

These medications need to be used with extreme care among older adults, who are more likely to suffer side effects because of coexisting physical disorders. Adherence problems are more likely among elderly patients, who may have difficulty understanding, seeing, or remembering instructions.[7]


Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of antidepressants, are considered by many to be the first choice medication for generalised social phobia. These drugs elevate the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin, among other effects. The first drug formally approved by the Food and Drug Administration was paroxetine, sold as Paxil in the U.S. or Seroxat in the UK. Compared to older forms of medication, there is less risk of tolerability and drug dependency.[85] However, their efficacy and increased suicide risk has been subject to controversy.

General side-effects are common during the first weeks while the body adjusts to the drug. Symptoms may include headaches, nausea, insomnia and changes in sexual behavior. Treatment safety during pregnancy has not been established.[86] In late 2004 much media attention was given to a proposed link between SSRI use and juvenile suicide. For this reason, the use of SSRIs in pediatric cases of depression is now recognized by the Food and Drug Administration as warranting a cautionary statement to the parents of children who may be prescribed SSRIs by a family doctor.[87] Recent studies have shown no increase in rates of suicide.[88] These tests, however, represent those diagnosed with depression, not necessarily with social anxiety disorder. However, due to the nature of the conditions, those taking SSRIs for social phobias are far less likely to have suicidal ideation than those with depression.

Other drugs

The atypical antipsychotic quetiapine appears effective in generalized anxiety disorder, however rates of adverse effects is greater than that with SSRIs.[89]

Benzodiazepines such as alprazolam and clonazepam are an alternative to SSRIs. These drugs are often used for short-term relief of severe, disabling anxiety.[90] Although benzodiazepines are still sometimes prescribed for long-term everyday use, there is concern over the development of drug tolerance, dependency and recreational abuse. It has been recommended that benzodiazepines only be considered for individuals who fail to respond to safer medications.[91] Benzodiazepines are not however, effective in the treatment of children and adolescents who have an anxiety disorder.[84] Benzodiazepines augment the action of GABA, the major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain; effects usually begin to appear within minutes or hours.

Some people with a form of social phobia called performance phobia have been helped by beta-blockers, which are more commonly used to control high blood pressure. Taken in low doses, they control the physical manifestation of anxiety and can be taken before a public performance.

Treatment controversy arises because while some studies indicate that a combination of medication and psychotherapy can be more effective than either one alone, others suggest pharmacological interventions are largely palliative, and can actually interfere with the mechanisms of successful therapy.[92] Meta-analysis indicates that psychotherapeutic interventions have better long-term efficacy compared to pharmacotherapy.[93] However, the right treatment may very much depend on the individual patient's genetics and environmental factors.

Caffeine elimination

Caffeine can be beneficial in that it has the ability to clear the mind, increase focus, and essentially help individuals stay awake for extended periods of time. Unfortunately, it also has the ability to hinder one’s cognitive functioning. When it produces these negative effects, the individual is said to have caffeinism. Caffeinism results from excessive consumption of substances like coffee, tea, headache medications, etc. It has been known to cause severe anxiety, along with more minor effects, such as muscle twitchings, hand tremors, and headaches. The best way to prevent caffeinism is to either wean off of caffeine completely or reduce consumption.[94] For some people, anxiety can be very much reduced by coming off caffeine.[95] Anxiety can temporarily increase during caffeine withdrawal.[96][97][98]

Alternative medicine

Regular aerobic exercise,[99] improving sleep hygiene and reducing caffeine[100] are often useful in treating anxiety. There is tentative evidence that yoga may be effective.[101] Evidence is insufficient regarding meditation to make any conclusions.[102]

Many other natural remedies have been used for anxiety disorder. These include kava, where the potential for benefit seems greater than that for harm with short-term use in patients with mild to moderate anxiety.[103][104] Based on Cochrane's review the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommends use of kava for patients with mild to moderate anxiety disorders who are not using alcohol or taking other medicines metabolized by the liver, but who wish to use "natural" remedies.[105] Side effects of kava in the clinical trials were rare and mild.

Inositol has been found to have modest effects in people with panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder.[106] There is insufficient evidence to support the use of St. John's wort, valerian or passionflower.[106] Clinical studies have shown that adaptogens are efficient in the treatment of anxiety disorders.[107]


The prognosis varies on the severity of each case and utilization of treatment for each individual. [108] It is the most common cause of disability in the workplace in the United States.[109]


Globally as of 2010 approximately 273 million (4.5% of the population) had an anxiety disorder.[110] It is more common in females (5.2%) than males (2.8%).[110] In Europe, Africa and Asia, lifetime rates of anxiety disorders are between 9 and 16%, and yearly rates are between 4 and 7%.[111] In the United States, the lifetime prevalence of anxiety disorders is about 29%[112] and between 11 and 18% of adults have the condition in a given year.[111]


Further reading

External links

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