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Anxiety & Panic Disorders Health Center

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Anxiety Disorders Common, Untreated

Study: Nearly 1 in 5 Had an Anxiety Disorder; Many Not Getting Help
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 5, 2007 -- Nearly one-fifth of patients in health clinics may have anxiety disorders, and many of them aren't getting help for their anxiety disorder, a new study suggests.

Anxiety disorders go beyond normal anxiety or fear. Here's how the National Institute of Mental Health describes common types of anxiety disorders:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder. Chronic anxiety, even with little or no cause.
  • Panic disorder. Sudden bouts of terror, often accompanied by a pounding heart, sweatiness, weakness, fainting, or dizziness.
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). An anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event such as a violent personal assault, disaster, accident, or military combat.
  • Social anxiety disorder (social phobia). Overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder. Recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions).

Anxiety has long been known to be a common mental health problem. The new study spotlights a brief survey that doctors could use to help screen patients for anxiety disorders.

Screening for Anxiety Disorders

The study appears in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The researchers included Kurt Kroenke, MD, of the Regenstrief Institute for Health Care in Indianapolis.

They studied 965 patients at family practice or internal medicine health clinics in 12 states. The patients were 18-87 years old (average age: 47); most were white women.

Kroenke's team developed a seven-item survey to gauge patients' anxiety, nervousness, worrying, irritability, inability to relax, and fear during the previous two weeks. The survey is a lengthier version of another anxiety survey.

The patients completed the seven-item survey before seeing their doctors. Later, they were interviewed via telephone by mental health professionals.

Anxiety Disorders Were Common

The study shows that 188 patients -- nearly 20% -- had at least one anxiety disorder.

That includes 83 patients who had posttraumatic stress disorder, 73 patients with generalized anxiety disorder, 66 patients with panic disorder, and 60 patients with social anxiety disorder. The researchers did not include obsessive-compulsive disorder in their study.

Several patients had more than one type of anxiety disorder. Forty-two patients had two anxiety disorders, 14 had three disorders, and eight had four disorders.

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