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Adjustment to Cancer: Anxiety and Distress (PDQ®): Supportive care - Patient Information [NCI] - Anxiety Disorders

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Panic disorder

Patients with panic disorder feel sudden intense anxiety, known as panic attacks. Symptoms of panic disorder include the following:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Feeling dizzy.
  • Fast heart beat.
  • Shaking.
  • Heavy sweating.
  • Feeling sick to the stomach.
  • Tingling of the skin.
  • Being afraid they are having a heart attack.
  • Being afraid they are "going crazy."

A panic attack may last for several minutes or longer. There may be feelings of discomfort that last for several hours after the attack. Panic attacks are treated with medicine and talk therapy.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is rare in patients with cancer who did not have the disorder before being diagnosed with cancer.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is diagnosed when a person uses persistent (obsessive) thoughts, ideas, or images and compulsions (repetitive behaviors) to manage feelings of distress. The obsessions and compulsions affect the person's ability to work, go to school, or be in social situations. Examples of compulsions include frequent hand washing or constantly checking to make sure a door is locked. Patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder may be unable to follow through with cancer treatment because of these thoughts and behaviors. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is treated with medicine and individual (one-to-one) counseling.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

See the PDQ summary on Post-traumatic Stress Disorder for information about this condition.

Generalized anxiety disorder

Patients with generalized anxiety disorder may feel extreme and constant anxiety or worry. For example, patients with supportive family and friends may fear that no one will care for them. Patients may worry that they cannot pay for their treatment, even though they have enough money and insurance.

A person who has generalized anxiety may feel irritable, restless, or dizzy, have tense muscles, shortness of breath, fast heart beat, sweating, or get tired quickly. Generalized anxiety disorder sometimes begins after a patient has been very depressed.

There are different kinds of treatment for anxiety disorders.

There are different types of treatment for patients with anxiety disorders, including methods to manage stress. Ways to manage stress include the following:

  • Deal with the problem directly.
  • See the situation as a problem to solve or a challenge.
  • Get all of the information and support needed to solve the problem.
  • Break big problems or events into smaller problems or tasks.
  • Be flexible. Take situations as they come.
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