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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 an anxiety disorder, or it may be a symptom of another problem, such as depression.
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 away.
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 include:
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, and generalized anxiety disorder.
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:
A 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. Panic attacks usually last only a few minutes, but an attack may last longer. And for some people, the anxiety can get worse quickly during the attack.
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 without warning.
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 hyperthyroidism, coronary artery disease, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A complete medical examination may be needed before an anxiety disorder can be diagnosed.
People who have repeated unexpected panic attacks and worry about the attacks are said to have a panic disorder.
Phobias are extreme and irrational fears that interfere with daily life. People with phobias have fears that are out of proportion to real danger, and they are not able to control them.
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 behavior).
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:
Phobias can be treated to help reduce feelings of fear and anxiety.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
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Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
A few examples of obsessive or compulsive behaviors that can interfere with your daily activities include:
The risk of a suicide attempt is highest if:
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.
Symptoms of a heart attack may include:
For men and women, the most common symptom is chest pain or pressure. But women are somewhat more likely than men to have other symptoms, like shortness of breath, nausea, and back or jaw pain.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
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.
Home treatment, combined with professional treatment, can help relieve anxiety.
Call your doctor if symptoms become more frequent or severe during home treatment.
You can help prevent anxiety attacks:
Talk with your doctor about your symptoms of anxiety or panic. A licensed counselor or other health professional can help you find ways to reduce your symptoms with techniques such as biofeedback, hypnosis, or cognitive-behavioral therapy.
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 following questions:
While waiting for your appointment, it may be helpful to keep a diary of your symptoms .
Current as of: July 1, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineDavid Messenger MD
Current as of: July 1, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & David Messenger MD
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
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