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Ask A Doc: Anxiety

You asked Dr. Martin Russo from NOMG’s family medicine office about anxiety, and he answered.

Are anxiety disorders common?

Yes, anxiety disorders are increasingly common. Anxiety disorders, such as “generalized anxiety disorder” (GAD), panic disorders or phobias are the most common psychiatric disorder in the United States. It is estimated that 40 million Americans (over 18) are affected by an anxiety disorder. It often starts in the early 20s and affects women more than men.

What are the symptoms of anxiety and is it the same as a panic attack?

Anxiety is what a person feels, and the body’s reaction to symptoms of worry. Symptoms of anxiety may last hours to weeks at a time and is often triggered by some form of stress. This is in contrast with sudden symptoms of severe anxiety that last for just minutes representing a “panic attack.” Panic attacks are often associated with a rapid heart rate, shakiness, sweating and trouble breathing. This is in contrast with “GAD” with associated symptoms of restlessness, tension and fatigue that is longer lasting and often associated with specific worries. Panic attacks on the other hand may come on with no apparent precipitating event.

What can you do to treat anxiety?

Counseling and various forms of therapy may be helpful to treat anxiety especially the milder forms. Therapy may be helpful in combination with medications.

There are a number of medications that appear to help. Some are used for short-term purposes or “rescue drugs” when acute symptoms occur. It is interesting that these medications do not decrease worrying per se, but they decrease the body’s response to the worrying. The worrying still needs to be addressed and is often done so through the right kind of counseling from others.

There are also medications used for the long-term management of anxiety and can take several weeks to start working. They seem to have a beneficial effect on the worrying associated with GAD but does nothing for the body’s reaction to worry.

In any event, minimal or severe, seek help from your health care provider to begin a thorough evaluation.

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