Anxiety is alerting signal. It is a common signal which our body gives and warns the person of impending danger and enables them to take preventing measures. It prepares the body for ‘fight or flight’ reaction for survival. However, there are many instances where presence of anxiety is dysfunctional and produces stress and impairment of functions that clinically constitutes as an ‘anxiety disorder’.
Symptoms of anxiety disorder –
- Fear of future and impending disaster
- Depersonalisation (Perception of detachment from own body. Example, feeling like a robot)
- Chest pain
- Frequency of urination
- Poor concentration
- Insomnia (loss of sleep)
Symptoms can be psychological, physical or mixture of both. Intervention is required when symptoms interfere with functioning.
Differential Diagnosis of Anxiety disorders –
- Alcohol Withdrawal
- Paroxysmal arrhythmias
- Temporal lobe epilepsy
Anxiety as a symptom can be part of other psychiatric diseases particularly depression or consequence of physical illnesses such as thyrotoxicosis or drug induced. Anxiety disorders may be associated with substance abuse disorder. Anxiety disorders sometimes subsides without any treatment. Generalised Anxiety (chronic anxiety) can lead to physical complaints and hence, needs medical management.
Types of Anxiety Disorders –
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – Excessive anxiety present for a period of more than six months which causes significant distress.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – Obsessive recurrent, intrusive thoughts that cause anxiety or compulsions. Repetitive behaviors (hand washing, cleaning etc) reduce anxiety and must be adhered rigidly.
- Panic Disorder (PD) – It is a type of anxiety disorder of more than 6 months duration which causes panic attacks. When panic attacks appear, it feels like you are loosing control, having a heartache or even dying. Panic attack causes extreme fear.
- Social Phobia (SP) – It is also called social anxiety disorder. Social interactions causes considerable amount of fear which causes distress and impairment to function for more than six months duration.
- Post-traumatic stress Disorder (PTSD) – Traumatic event (self/family/witnessing others), threats of harm and helplessness or death which causes persistent anxiety/ outbursts, nightmares, flash-backs, hyper-vigilance persisting for a duration of more than three months.
Conclusion – Anxiety can be part and parcel of our lives but we need to distinguish between anxiety and anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders can lead to severe illnesses if not treated timely.