What are anxiety disorders and how to diagnose anxiety disorders?

Anxiety is a natural response to stress that can be useful in some circumstances. It can alert us of impending dangers and assist us in planning and paying attention to situations. Anxiety is something that everybody experiences from time to time. When confronted with a problem at work, before taking an exam, or before making a major decision, you can experience anxiety. ‘Anxiety disorders’, on the other hand, are more than just temporary anxiety or panic. Anxiety disorders are marked by intense fear or anxiety, as opposed to natural feelings of nervousness. Anxiety does not go away easily, and it can get worse over time. Its symptoms can make it difficult to do things like work, schoolwork, and maintaining relationships. People with anxiety disorders may try avoid the situations that cause or exacerbate the symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders affect people in different ways. One’s experience may differ from another’s. Not everyone with anxiety disorder will have the same signs and symptoms.

Psychological or mental symptoms of Anxiety Disorder:

  1. Feeling as though thoughts are racing.
  2. Overthinking and worrying that cannot be controlled.
  3. Inability or difficulty to concentrate.
  4. Frequent feelings of fear, panic, or impending threats or disaster.
  5. Irritability.
  6. Heightened alertness.
  7. Sleep patterns are disturbed.
  8. Changes in appetite and dietary patterns.
  9. A need to flee or escape the situation.
  10. Dissociation or the feeling of being disconnected from your body, observing things around you but unable to feel anything.

Physiological symptoms of Anxiety Disorder:

  1. Precipitating or sweating.
  2. Rapid and heavy breathing.
  3. Hot flushes.
  4. Dry mouth.
  5. Trembling or shaking.
  6. Heartbeat increase rapidly.
  7. Fatigue and loss of energy.
  8. Dizziness and nausea
  9. Gastrointestinal problems.
  10. Muscle tightness.
  11. Lacking the ability to remain calm.

Sweating, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, trembling, worry, or stress are both physical and psychological indicators of panic and anxiety, and they serve as cues that something is happening that may be a danger and that you need to solve it. This “fight or flight” response mobilises the physical and psychological capacity required to deal with the danger. While this mechanism mostly functions well, it can sometimes go into overdrive and do more damage than good. If this happens to you, it may be a sign that you have an anxiety disorder.

Prevalence of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are prevalent in 2.5% to 7% of the world’s population, depending on the region. Anxiety disorders affect an estimated 284 million people worldwide as per a study conducted in 2017, making it the most common mental health disorder. Of these, there were 179 million females (63%) and 105 million males (37%). In a 2020 study, 62% of respondents said they were anxious in some way. Approximately 31% of people will suffer from anxiety disorders at any stage in their lives. Between 1990 and 2013, the global incidence of all psychiatric illnesses rose by 50%, from 416 million to 615 million people. 

Females are more likely than males to develop anxiety disorders. Anxiety affects 23% of females adults and 14% of male adults. Female teenage anxiety is much higher than male adolescent anxiety. In the years between 2001-2004, 38% of female teenagers and 26.1% of male adolescents had anxiety disorders. Women are twice as likely than men to develop generalised anxiety (GAD).

The age range of 17 to 18 years old was the most affected by anxiety. When comparing the age groups of 26 to 49 and 50 and over, it was discovered that generalised anxiety affects twice as many people in the 26 to 49 age group. Anxiety conditions affected the most 30-44-year-olds, 22.3% of 18-29-year-olds and 20.6% of 45-59-year-olds. The age demographic of 60 and over was the least affected.

Anxiety disorders are less common in those with a higher education. Anxiety affects 3.9 million people with a high school diploma, 3.3 million with a college diploma, 2.8 million with any college, and 3 million with a college diploma or higher. Anxiety is the most common reason for seeking therapy in college, with 41.6% of college student are seen for anxiety.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

1.Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterised by recurrent and intense worry that disrupts everyday activities. Most people worry about their health, work, finances, and family from time to time, but people with GAD worry about these and more in a constant, repetitive and intrusive way. People with GAD find it difficult to relax and concentrate on tasks. Physical symptoms such as restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, sweating, muscle tension, breathlessness, sleep problems, can accompany the ongoing worry. GAD was found to be present in 3.7% of people over the course of their lives, 1.8% of people over the course of a year, and 0.8% of people over the course of a month.

2.Panic Disorder

Recurrent panic attacks, an overwhelming mixture of physical and psychological trauma, is the most common symptom of panic disorder. Panic disorder is distinct from usual fear and anxiety in that it is often severe and appears out of nowhere. An individual suffering from panic disorder can exhibit symptoms such as intense terror or panic, rapid breathing and heart rate. Since the symptoms are so serious, many people who have a panic attack may think they are experiencing a heart attack or a life-threatening condition. Panic attacks can be anticipated, such as a reaction to a feared object, or sudden, occurring for no reason. In the United States and Europe, the prevalence of panic disorder is 2 to 3%. The prevalence rates in Asian, African, and Latin American countries are smaller, varying from 0.1 to 0.8 %.

3.Specific Phobia

A specific phobia is an excessive, persistent, intense and irrational fear of a specific object or situation that is usually harmless. These fears are so distressing that some people would go great lengths to avoid the situation or object. The categories of specific phobia are:

  • Natural/environment type (fear of lightning, thunder, water, etc.)

  • Injury type (fear of injections, etc.)

  • Animal type (fear of dogs, snakes, insects)

  • Situational type (fear of enclosed spaces, public spaces, washing, etc.)

  • Other types such as choking, vomiting, loud noises, etc.

The prevalence of specific phobias over a lifetime ranged from 2.6% to 12.5% in different countries.

4.Social Anxiety Disorder

An individual with Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) experiences severe anxiety and discomfort over being ashamed, embarrassed, ignored, or looked down on, in social interactions. People with SAD will either attempt to escape or tolerate the situation with anxiety. Extreme fear of public speaking, meeting new people, or eating/drinking in public are common examples of SAD. This fear or anxiety impairs one’s ability to carry out daily tasks. SAD, also known as social phobia, is fairly prevalent in the general population, with a lifetime prevalence of 2–5% in adults.

5.Separation Anxiety Disorder

Separation Anxiety Disorder is characterised by an intense fear or anxiety of being separated from those with whom one is attached to. An individual with separation anxiety disorder may be constantly concerned about leaving the person closes to him/her, is hesitant to leave the person, or experiences nightmares about separation. Physical signs of distress usually appear in infancy, but they may last into adulthood. 

How to diagnose Anxiety Disorders

There are no lab tests that can be used to identify anxiety disorders, but the doctor can prescribe some to rule out physical issues. Your doctor can refer you to a mental health specialist, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or counsellor, who can use diagnostic tools and questions to figure out what kind of disorder you have. To aid in the diagnosis, screening and monitoring techniques may be used. The GAD-7 and the Panic Disorder Severity Measure are free screening instruments. A mental health professional can do the following to assist in the diagnosis of anxiety disorders:

  1. Provide a psychological assessment: This entails talking about your emotions, fears, and behaviour in order to narrow down a diagnosis and rule out any potential problems. Anxiety symptoms often coexist with other mental health issues, such as depression or drug abuse, making diagnosis more difficult.
  2. Compare your symptoms with the DSM-V criteria: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) issued by the American Psychiatric Association is used by many psychologists and psychiatrists in the diagnosis of anxiety disorders.

Treatment of Anxiety Disorders

Psychotherapy, medications and coping mechanisms are methods of treating anxiety disorders. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that is especially helpful for people who suffer from anxiety disorders. Medications cannot treat anxiety disorders, but they do provide substantial symptom relief. 

It can take some time for you and your doctor to figure out the ideal treatment plan for you. Be patient and keep communicating with your mental health practitioner as they work out the right solution for your specific needs.


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