October 11, 2013

Anxiety Disorders

According to the National Institute of Health, studies estimate that anxiety disorders affect between 3 and 14% of older adults in a given year.  While doctors and older adults tend to view anxiety and fear as normal given the circumstances of aging, anxiety disorders are different.  An anxiety disorder lasts a long time and can get worse if it is not treated.  Brain studies show that older adults experience and process emotions differently than younger adults.  They have different concerns, and problems with cognition (thinking) and changes in life circumstances can complicate matters.  They may often express their anxiety in physical terms, such as feeling dizzy or shaky, whereas younger adults may express it in more psychological terms.  Anxiety disorders commonly occur at the same time as other illnesses, like depression, stomach or digestive problems, hyperthyroidism, respiratory problems, heart disease, diabetes and other medical problems.  

Types of Anxiety Disorders

There are several basic types:  
Generalized Anxiety Disorder --worry about things like money, health, and family problems, even if everything is OK; or feeling anxious about just getting through the day.  There is an inability to control worries and relax, a hard time concentrating, and physical symptoms such as headaches, trembling, twitching, sweating, having to go to the bathroom a lot, or difficulty sleeping.  

Social Phobia --even though a person often knows that they shouldn't be afraid, they can't control their fear of everyday things like running errands or meeting with friends.  There is worry in advance of meeting people or about being embarrassed and therefore a feeling of self-consciousness around other people, and a tendency towards isolation.  Physical symptoms such as blushing, heavy sweating, trembling and nausea are common.     

Panic Disorder --sudden, unexplained attacks of terror, often with heart pounding, during which there is a sense of unreality, a fear of impending doom, or a fear of losing control.  During an attack, there is sweating, a feeling of faintness or dizziness, numbness in hands, or nausea, chest pain or difficulty breathing.  There is increased worry about when the next attack will occur.     

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) --develops after undergoing a terrifying ordeal like an accident or an act of violence.  It can be the person who is harmed, or have a loved one who is harmed, or have witnessed a harmful event.  People with PTSD constantly re-live the trauma they experienced and may be triggered by ordinary events.  They may startle easily, become emotionally distant with loved ones, lose interest in things they once enjoyed, be irritable or aggressive, or even violent.     

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder --the uncontrollable need to check things over and over, or having certain unwanted thoughts or images, or perform certain routines over and over.  These thoughts and rituals cause distress and get in the way of daily life.  The repeated, upsetting thoughts are called obsessions.  To try to control them, people with OCD repeat rituals or behaviors, which are called compulsions.  People with OCD cannot control or stop these thoughts or rituals, and they can cause missed work or meetings with friends, or chronic lateness.     

Specific Phobia --an intense, extreme fear of something that poses little or no actual danger, like closed-in places, heights, escalators, tunnels, highway driving, water, flying, animals, or the sight of blood.  Even though the fear is irrational, facing or even thinking about facing the feared object or situation creates severe anxiety.  If you think you have an anxiety disorder, the first person to consult is your family doctor.  A physician can determine whether the symptoms that alarm you are due to an anxiety disorder, another medical condition or both.  If an anxiety disorder is diagnosed, the next step is usually seeing a mental health professional.  The practitioners who are most helpful with anxiety disorders are those who have training in cognitive behavioral therapy and/or behavioral therapy, and who are open to using medication if it is needed.  The good news is that most disorders can be treated with medication or psychotherapy.   

Source:  National Institute of Health

Robert G. Tupac, DDS, FACP, Inc., Diplomate, American Board of Prosthodontics (661) 325-1275 | www.drtupac.com 5060 California Ave., #170, Bakersfield, CA 93309

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