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Do I have an anxiety disorder?

Published:Saturday | September 17, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Dr Douglas Street, Contributor

It is normal to feel anxious from time to time, especially when we are stressed. However, sometimes these feelings are over and above what is considered as normal and may even come on without any noticeable cause.

These feelings may have a negative impact on everyday activities and might need intervention. Anxiety disorders are fairly common and may affect nearly 20 per cent of any given population. They typically affect women about twice as often as men.

It commonly coexists with other conditions, such as depression. They tend to run in families. There are different types but the focus here will on the most common types - generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder.

GAD causes a person to be in a persistent state of fear, and worry excessively over everyday things. Symptoms include fatigue, fidgeting, headache, nausea, numbness in the limbs, muscular pains and stiffness, fullness in the chest, chest tightness, shortness of breath, racing of the heart, sweating, restlessness, sleeping difficulties, problems concentrating, agitation, tremors, abdominal discomfort and hot flashes. These symptoms must continue for at least six months to be diagnosed as GAD and the symptoms must not be caused by any other condition.

Panic disorder is somewhat more dramatic. It is characterised by unpredictable and uncontrollable episodes where the sufferer may experiences intense feeling of anxiety with racing of the heart, sweating, shortness of breath, fearfulness, dizziness, trembling, numbness and tingling, sensation of choking, and even fainting. The attacks usually last for about 10 minutes but may actually continue until medical intervention takes place.

Normally fearful

The affected person is normally fearful of when the next attack will take place due to their unpredictability and may avoid being outdoors. It is often mistaken to be asthma or a heart condition and may even be prescribed medications for these other condition.

It is very important that if any of these conditions is suspected, a medical evaluation is sought. Not knowing the cause of the problem can itself be a source of anxiety. There are some persons in whom the symptoms are not severe, who actually choose not to be treated with medication but just use relaxation techniques to calm themselves as the attacks usually resolve themselves spontaneously.

Lifestyle changes, such as exercise and adequate rest, are usually helpful. Medication, though, is the main part of the treatment for most sufferers and some may benefit from psychotherapy.

Dr Douglas Street is a general practitioner and has private practices at Trinity Medical Centre, Trinity Mall at 3 Barnett Street in Montego Bay, and Omega Medical Centre at Plaza de Negril, Negril. Send feedback to