An Overview of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are the most common of the psychiatric disorders. They involve about 40 million American adults during a given year. It makes sense that anxiety disorders would be on the rise during times of increased economic and natural disaster, wars, terrorism, crime, and other areas of social disruption.

Anxiety disorders do not involve the odd periods of excessive anxiety that come from job interviews, potential job loss, public speaking or performing, or other major events that resolve fairly soon. A six month period of symptoms that will not get better without treatment is the criterion for diagnosing a significant and distressful anxiety disorder.

Commonly, there are physical or mental illnesses, including substance abuse and alcohol abuse that can either accompany or even cover up the anxiety disorder. These may need to be treated before the anxiety can be dealt with.

Anxiety patients, depending on the severity and on the accompanying disorders and illnesses, can be very good at responding to good treatment by well informed clinicians, and have good results in returning to good and well functioning lives.

Research is an important factor in the medical field becoming more adept at identifying the causes and in developing more effective treatments and training of clinicians.

The major classes of anxiety disorders are panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), Overanxious disorder of childhood, anxiety disorder due to a general medical condition, substance abuse anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias, agoraphobia with and without panic disorder,  obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD,post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anxiety disorder that is not otherwise specified.

Panic attacks and agoraphobia occur as a compenent of the other anxiety disorders, and are diagnosed with special or different criterion that are established in the DSM-IV-TR.

Focusing on Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): this disorder involves exaggerated worries, tensions and fears of impending disaster when there are no reasons for the provocation of such feelings. The diagnosis duration is for a patient who complains of such feelings for 6 or more months. There are accompanying sleep disturbances. There is a large list of physiological symptoms, including fatigue, headaches, difficulty swallowing, muscle tension and aching, nausea, sweating, irritability, twitching, trembling breathlessness and even hot flashes. GAD is usually accompanied by depression or substance abuse. Medication and cognitive/behavioral therapy is applied with understanding that the related disorders must be also treated.

Excessive worry about common and usual problems that occurs for at least six months is important to the diagnosis, combined with physiological effects, such as sleep disorders, that cause problems with functioning well in daily activities.

Twice as many women as men are found to have this disorder with 6.8 million American adults involved. Highest risks are between childhood and middle age, with some clue that genetics may have somewhat of a role in the disorder.

GAD rarely occurs alone, and has other anxiety disorders, depression and substance abuse as co-disorders.


 The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Clinical Psychiatry, 5th Edition. Chapter 12. Anxiety Disorders. VIA Psychiatry Online

National Institute of Mental Health “Anxiety Disorders”

National Institute of Mental Health “Generalized Anxiety Disorder”