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Types of Anxiety Disorders

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Prevalence of Anxiety Disorders

Experts have found that Anxiety Disorders are extremely common, with recent estimates suggesting that approximately 40 million Americans experience an anxiety disorder each year (ref. 1, 2). The research of Kessler and his colleagues suggest that slightly over 28% of Americans will experience an anxiety disorder over their lifetime, with specific phobias and social anxiety being the most common anxiety disorder (ref. 1, 2).

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Panic Disorder. If you have a Panic Disorder you are subject to Panic Attacks or Anxiety Attacks. Panic Attacks are characterized by feelings of intense anxiety, often accompanied by a number of physical symptoms, most commonly: dizziness, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, and even feelings that one is going to become ill/vomit, pass out, be unable to swallow or choke. Panic Attacks also can include fears of going crazy or dying, racing thoughts, and a desire to escape or flee. Panic Attack sufferers often fear that there is something seriously wrong with them, e.g., that they may be having a heart attack. Thus, Panic Attacks are extremely frightening. The good news is that Panic Attacks are not dangerous. However, it is important to have a medical evaluation to make sure that physical symptoms are not indicative of an underlying medical problem.

Phobias. If you have a Phobia you have an intense fear of a specific situation, object, animal or activity. While we all may have fears that are excessive, Phobias are more than that. Phobias refer to an intense and unreasonable fear, often verging on panic, of a specific object or situation. People with Phobias will often go to extreme degrees to avoid phobic situations. Phobias have often been divided into three types. These types include: Specific Phobias: a very specific fear of a situation or object. Common fear situations are flying and highway driving, while feared objects include snakes and insects. Fears of vomiting and of blood are also not uncommon. Social Phobias: a fear of social interactions or activities such as public speaking, using a public restroom, or participating in social activities such as dining out, playing sports or performing in front of others. Social phobias usually include a fear of failing, or being disgraced or humiliated. Agoraphobia: a fear of going out, of being in large or crowded public places. At its extreme Agoraphobia can result in a person becoming homebound.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). If you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder you likely are prone to excessive worrying and anxiety. Your anxiety is not focused on any specific situation but is typically applied to a wide range of situations and concerns. People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder tend to anticipate the worst, worrying about all sorts of unpleasant possibilities affecting them or their family. People with GAD tend to worry frequently and may even worry about worrying.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). If you have OCD you are prone to Obsessive thinking: having recurring, persistent, unwanted and often disturbing thoughts or images (which often are contrary to one’s basic nature, e.g., accidentally burning down one’s home or shouting out obscenities at work or at church); and/or Compulsive Behavior: a need to perform rituals to prevent or ward off anxiety and prevent bad things from occurring. For example, a person who is afraid of germs or disease might wash her hands over and over, or wash down any item she brings into her home. It is important to keep in mind that we all may experience unwanted thoughts, have an urge to double check something, and have little rituals we perform. This does not mean you have OCD. Rather, a person has OCD when the obsessive thinking and/or the ritualistic or compulsive behavior is to such a degree that it is causing you significant distress, and disrupting and interfering with your life. For example, someone who must triple check all the locks, windows, doors, and electrical appliances before leaving the house has OCD; or someone who has to count to 14 before entering or leaving a room, or engaging in any activity has OCD; or someone who finds himself struggling to ward off negative and intrusive thoughts on a daily basis, and fears that he will act on these thoughts even though these thoughts are completely out of character and he has never behaved in such ways, has OCD.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). If you have suffered or witnessed a life threatening and highly traumatic event, such as a serious auto accident, a fire, or an assault this can place you at risk for PTSD. PTSD is characterized by intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event, frequently feeling like you are re-experiencing parts of the event, nightmares, and extreme vigilance. PTSD is also accompanied by an intense reaction to events that you feel are similar to the traumatic event, and a strong desire to avoid situations that remind you of the traumatic event. Other symptoms can include irritability, sleep disturbance, and poor concentration. It is important to keep in mind that PTSD is a severe disorder and that it is normal to remember and be disturbed by a traumatic event. PTSD is only diagnosed when the symptoms noted above are present and are significantly interfering with daily functioning.

Anxiety symptoms that do not fit any of the patterns noted above. If you experience some of the anxiety symptoms noted above, or a combination of symptoms from different anxiety disorders, you are not alone. Anxiety Disorders do not always fall clearly into one of the Anxiety Disorders noted above.

References cited in our discussion of Anxiety Disorders

Ref 1. Ronald C. Kessler, PhD; Patricia Berglund, MBA; Olga Demler, MA, MS; Robert Jin, MA; Kathleen R. Merikangas, PhD; Ellen E. Walters, MS, Lifetime Prevalence and Age-of-Onset Distributions of DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005;62:593-602.

Ref 2. Ronald C. Kessler, PhD; Wai Tat Chiu, AM; Olga Demler, MA, MS; Ellen E. Walters, MS, Prevalence, Severity, and Comorbidity of 12-Month DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005;62:617-627.


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