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Anxiety and Stress Disorders

Could I Have Anxiety?

04/16/2011

Question:

I was wondering if the following symptoms are from anxiety or if there is a medical reason for them. For the past few months I have had tingling/prickling feeling in my extremities. I get hot flashes in my head and my hands. Sometimes I get muscles twitching and a vibrating feeling throughout my body, the feeling of fright in my chest and abdomen and heart palpitations. I did go through a major medical problem with my daughter a year ago when she almost died. Is this post traumatic stress or anxiety. I am tense all the time and my startle reflex is exaggerated. What can I do to relieve these symptoms. I am only 37 so I don`t think I am going through menopause but the symptoms seem to be worse at certain times in the month. Please help.

Answer:

It sounds as though you are struggling with very strong physical anxiety. Typically we associate the symptoms you are describing with panic attacks, which are characterized by strong physical sensations accompanied by feelings such as fear of having a heart attack, dying, losing control or going crazy.

Symptoms such as hot/cold flashes, feeling dizzy, weak or shaky, feeling your heart race, having difficulty breathing/shortness of breath, and tingling in the arms and other extremities are all symptoms of panic attacks.

These attacks are often extremely frightening and disorienting, and many people live in fear of their next attack. Panic attacks themselves are fairly common--most people will experience one or more at some point in time in their lives. However, if you are suffering from more frequent attacks, particularly ones that are `uncued` or spontaneous (e.g., you don`t know why they occur), then you may be struggling with Panic Disorder, which is characterized by at least 2 spontaneous panic attacks, coupled with fear of having future attacks.

Having recently been through a traumatic and very stressful experience can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), however, any type of stress can lead to any number of anxiety disorders.

PTSD requires that the anxiety be largely tied to the traumatic event such as experiencing these symptoms when you think about your daughter`s medical problems and/or are reminded of the events surrounding this stressful time.

If you feel like you are chronically reliving this traumatic event, especially through repeated nightmares and flashbacks, or if you have other symptoms, such as feelings of depression, irritability or lack of pleasure or interest in your activities, these symptoms are suggestive of PTSD.

You also asked if there might be a medical reason for the symptoms you are experiencing. There may, in fact, be a medical cause to your problems. It is always important to speak to a doctor about any difficulties you are having, to rule out a medical illness or other difficulty. In fact, it is possible to have both an anxiety disorder and a medical illness, and to have each of these influence each other (e.g., a hormone imbalance can intensify feelings of panic, leading to a greater number of panic attacks).

Because we cannot diagnose medical illness or mental health issues via an on-line forum, we highly recommend seeking the advice of a doctor and/or psychologist in your area. Fortunately there are excellent treatment options available for both panic disorder and PTSD, as well as a variety of other anxiety disorders.
 
Many of the cognitive-behavioral (psychological) treatment programs have 70-80% success rates--which means individuals are free from their anxiety disorder 2 years after completing treatment. There are also medications available to help control symptoms. We recommend researching both options and discussing them with your health care professionals to make the best choice for you.

National Anxiety Disorders Screening Day is May 2nd, and on this day many clinics will be offering free screenings and referrals for anxiety treatment. This is an excellent opportunity to have an assessment of your symptoms and to meet with a psychologist regarding possible treatment options. You can find a participating clinician in your area by going to the Freedom From Fear website and going to their referral room. They will provide a list of clinics (by distance from the zip code you enter) available for the screening day. We hope this information was helpful and wish you good health.

Related Resources:

Freedom From Fear

For more information:

Go to the Anxiety and Stress Disorders health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Norman B Schmidt, PhD
Associate Professor
College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
The Ohio State University