Home > Health Library > Anxiety
Feeling worried or nervous is a normal part of everyday
life. Everyone frets or feels anxious from time to time. Mild to moderate
anxiety can help you focus your attention, energy, and motivation. If anxiety
is severe, you may have feelings of helplessness, confusion, and extreme worry
that are out of proportion with the actual seriousness or likelihood of the
feared event. Overwhelming anxiety that interferes with daily life is not
normal. This type of anxiety may be a symptom of another problem, such as
Anxiety can cause physical and
emotional symptoms. A specific situation or fear can cause some or all of these
symptoms for a short time. When the situation passes, the symptoms usually go
Physical symptoms of anxiety include:
Anxiety affects the part of the brain that helps control how
you communicate. This makes it harder to express yourself creatively or
function effectively in relationships. Emotional symptoms of anxiety
Anxiety disorders occur when people
have both physical and emotional symptoms. Anxiety disorders interfere with how
a person gets along with others and affect daily activities. Women are twice as
likely as men to have problems with anxiety disorders. Examples of anxiety
disorders include panic attacks, phobias,
obsessive-compulsive disorder, and
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Often the cause of anxiety disorders is not known. Many people with an
anxiety disorder say they have felt nervous and anxious all their lives. This
problem can occur at any age. Children who have at least one parent with the
diagnosis of depression are more than twice as likely to have an anxiety
disorder than other children.
Anxiety disorders often occur with
other problems, such as:
panic attack is a sudden feeling of extreme anxiety or
intense fear without a clear cause or when there is no danger. Panic attacks
are common. They sometimes occur in otherwise healthy people. An attack starts suddenly and usually lasts from
5 to 20 minutes but may last even longer, up to a few hours. You have the most
anxiety about 10 minutes after the attack starts.
Symptoms include feelings of
dying or losing control of yourself, rapid breathing (hyperventilation), numbness or tingling of the hands or lips, and a racing heart. You may feel
dizzy, sweaty, or shaky. Other symptoms include trouble breathing, chest pain
or tightness, and an irregular heartbeat. These symptoms come on suddenly and
Sometimes symptoms of a panic attack are so
intense that the person fears he or she is having a
heart attack. Many of the symptoms of a panic attack
can occur with other illnesses, such as
coronary artery disease, or
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A
complete medical examination may be needed before an anxiety disorder can be
People who have repeated unexpected panic attacks and
worry about the attacks are said to have a
extreme and irrational fears that interfere with daily life. People with
phobias have fears that are out of proportion to real danger. And although
these people are aware that their fears are not rational, they are not able to
Phobias are common and are sometimes present with
other conditions, such as panic disorder or
Tourette's disorder. Most people deal with phobias by
avoiding the situation or object that causes them to feel panic (avoidance
A phobic disorder occurs when the avoidance behavior
becomes so extreme that it interferes with your ability to participate in your
daily activities. There are three main types of phobic disorders:
Check your symptoms to decide if and when
you should see a doctor.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind
of care you may need. These include:
Symptoms of a heart attack may
The more of these symptoms you have, the more likely it is that
you're having a heart attack. Chest pain or pressure is the most common
symptom, but some people, especially women, may not notice it as much as other
symptoms. You may not have chest pain at all but instead have shortness of breath, nausea, numbness,
tingling, or a strange feeling in your chest or other areas.
Many prescription and nonprescription medicines can cause
anxiety. A few examples are:
Some illegal drugs, such as cocaine, crack, and speed
(amphetamines), also can cause anxiety.
A few examples of obsessive or compulsive behaviors that can interfere with your daily activities include:
The risk of a suicide attempt is
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be
able to take care of this problem at home.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical
Based on your answers, you need
Call911or other emergency services now.
After you call
911 , the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength (325 mg) or 2
to 4 low-dose (81 mg) aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The
problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Home treatment, combined with
professional treatment, can help relieve
Call your doctor if symptoms become more frequent or severe during home
You can help prevent
Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help control symptoms
of anxiety or panic.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your
doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the
While waiting for your appointment, it may be helpful to keep
diary of your symptoms(What is a PDF document?).
Current as of:
June 4, 2014
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & David Messenger, MD
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
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