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Anxiety, Fears, and Phobias

What Are Anxiety Disorders?

Last modified: 
15/04/2013 - 12:40

Anxiety disorders produce symptoms of fear that are felt at times when nothing alarming is happening. Anxiety disorders can produce physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, dizziness, or digestive problems.

Most people have an exaggerated fear of something such as heights, performing in public, or small creatures. In most cases, people can live a happy life in spite of these fears. But for millions of people, the problem is severe enough to cause them suffering - or to restrict their activity.

Anxiety disorders include:

  • Panic disorder, involving frequent or severe panic attacks.
  • Agoraphobia, the fear of public places, which often accompanies panic disorder.
  • Specific phobias, such as fear of small animals, heights, or enclosed spaces.
  • Social phobia, which involves fear of embarrassment or humiliation in social situations.
  • Post traumatic stress disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder

Fear itself is normal. And it has always been useful, helping people to survive. When cavemen came face to face with a wolf or a bear, it was fear that put them into top gear. It prepared them for "fight or flight," giving them the strength to run or to do battle.

When you are afraid:

  • You breathe harder and faster to give your body more oxygen.
  • Your heart pumps faster to deliver extra oxygen to the muscles and brain.
  • Your blood vessels adjust to direct blood to the parts of the body that need it.

In these ways, fear can give you the extra strength to save yourself from a runaway truck, or a mugger, or a burning building.

It is normal to feel the effects of fear sometimes, even when you are not in danger. For example, your heart might beat faster when you have to give a speech, meet the future in-laws, or close a deal.

But millions of Americans have symptoms of fear at times when nothing alarming is happening.

  • Some have panic attacks that may seem to come out of the blue.
  • Others suffer from phobias - extreme fear of things or situations that most people don't find frightening.

Almost everyone with an anxiety disorder can be treated successfully. In the simplest cases, the "cure" may take only one session. Most courses of treatment are longer, but they are more likely to be measured in weeks rather than in months.

Need To Know:

Post Traumatic Stress: Not Just For War Veterans

The term "post traumatic stress disorder" is often associated with soldiers. However, exposure to any type of traumatic situation - including rape, a plane crash, a terrorist attack or earthquakes or mugging - can also trigger the disorder.

Women are more likely to suffer than men, and there is some evidence that the disorder runs in families. It's impossible to predict when an ordinary event, sounds, smell, or happening might trigger a reminder that can make the person feel he is experiencing the trauma once again.

People experience various degrees of PTSD. While the disorder usually shows up within three months of the event, it can also show up years later. Recovery usually takes several months.

Facts About Anxiety, Fears, And Phobias

  • An estimated 2 to 4 percent of people suffers panic attacks.
  • About 4 percent of men and 9 percent of women have specific phobias, such as fear of a single object, creature, or situation.
  • As many as 2.5 percent of women and 1.5 percent of men may have social phobias.
  • About 4 million people experience generalized anxiety disorders in the U.S., according to the National Institutes of Health.
  • Some 5.2 million people are plagued by post traumatic stress disorder.
  • Estimates suggest that 2.3 percent of Americans experience obsessive-compulsive disorder.

 

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

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