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What should I do if I think I have an anxiety disorder?

Manuj Nangia, MD
Psychiatry
There are many treatment options for those who may think they have an anxiety disorder. Manuj Nangia, MD, at Good Samaritan Hospital, describes the ways one can get personal and professional help.
If you think you suffer from an anxiety disorder, see your primary care physician for a physical exam. This exam can rule out physical disorders with symptoms similar to anxiety, such as an ulcer, asthma, or an overactive thyroid, as well as the overuse of substances that can cause anxiety symptoms, especially caffeine, diet pills, or decongestants.

Your doctor will probably begin by asking you to describe exactly what you mean when you say that you feel anxious. Are you worried much of the time? Do you become frightened in particular circumstances? Do you have physical sensations, such as sweating or palpitations, along with emotional symptoms? The answers to these questions will help your doctor determine whether you have an anxiety disorder and, if so, which one.

Your doctor will also ask about your personal and family medical history. Have you or an immediate family member ever had an anxiety disorder? Have you been ill recently? Expect other questions about your personal habits. Which over-the-counter or prescription drugs do you take regularly? Do you smoke? Do you drink coffee, and if so, how many cups a day? These questions are important because certain medical conditions, medications, and substances (such as nicotine and caffeine) can cause anxiety symptoms.

Then the doctor will proceed with a general check-up to look for signs of physical illnesses, especially those with symptoms that mimic anxiety disorders.

As part of the check-up, the doctor will evaluate whether you have depression, since anxiety and depression often coexist. He or she may order a test to determine whether thyroid function is normal. You may be asked for a urine sample for tests to assess the functioning of your adrenal glands and to check for traces of illegal drugs. Abnormal thyroid or adrenal function can cause hormone imbalances that contribute to anxiety. Use of illicit drugs can also cause or exacerbate anxiety symptoms.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.