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To treat anxiety effectively, try different approaches: Consider prescribing benzodiazepines for excessive anxiety, antidepressants for anxiety disorders.

LAS VEGAS -- The way Robert Hudak, MD, sees it, the terms excessive anxiety and anxiety disorders are not interchangeable--and do not mean the same thing.

"People with anxiety disorders have excessive anxiety, but not everyone with excessive anxiety has a psychiatric disorder," he said at an annual psychopharmacology update held by the Nevada Psychiatric Association. 'Any anxiety above baseline can be normal. It's not necessarily pathological. I think that's an important point that's easy to overlook when we're in clinical practice, and it affects how we approach our patients."

Anxiety can present in a variety of ways in different individuals. Panic attacks are often the primary chief complaint, and it's common to hear complaints from family that the person is routinely seeking reassurance. In addition, tics and twitches are not unusual in people with anxiety disorder. "Some of that is brought out by anxiety itself," said Dr. Hudak a psychiatrist at the University of Pittsburgh. Sleep disturbances or other somatic complaints also are common. "They complain of racing thoughts, increased energy, and depression," he added. "When someone complains about depression, don't assume they have a mood disorder. The reason people with anxiety disorders complain about depression is that it really feels awful. Anxiety is incredibly dysphoric." Physical complaints include shortness of breath, GI distress, dizziness, and skin or gum lesions.

Individuals with excessive anxiety virtually never lose consciousness. "The exception is blood/injection/injury phobia," he said. "That's the only case in which anxiety will cause loss of consciousness. It happens in virtually no other setting. Ondine's curse while falling asleep is another symptom that only occurs with anxiety. It's a sensation that you have to remember to breathe, and breathing is no longer automatic. There are medical conditions that cause Ondine's curse. However, the patient who complains of Ondine's curse as they're falling asleep is pathognomonic for anxiety."

"The performance subtype of social anxiety really presents like a simple phobia," Dr. Hudak said. "The treatment for that is really behavioral therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy, and rarely the use of medications. The generalized type presents with intrusive, [obsessive-compulsive disorder]-like thoughts. Affected individuals describe themselves as 'paranoid' or feeling that they are being scrutinized. The categorical versus dimensional diagnosis is being debated." Individuals with generalized anxiety disorder, on the other hand, have excessive and pervasive worry and anxiety present more days than not for a 6-month period. "The individual finds it difficult to control the worry," he said. Somatic symptoms include resdessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, and insomnia. Different studies show the prevalence rate between 3% and 8%, affecting more women than men.

The medical work-up for excessive anxiety should consist of history and physical exam, complete blood count, the Chem-7 metabolic test, thyroid-stimulating hormone, and EKG if indicated. Both medications and behavioral therapy are used in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Many patients require both in order to achieve maximum treatment response. "Often, people with less severe illnesses can be managed with therapy alone," he said.

"In more severe cases, medications can help reduce symptoms to the point where therapy is easier to perform. The bottom line here is that at no time should you treat someone with an anxiety disorder with medications alone. Behavioral therapy is at least as effective as medications, and perhaps more so."

If someone has excessive anxiety that is not part of a primary anxiety disorder, Dr. Hudak typically prescribes benzodiazepines. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors seem to have the largest evidence base in panic disorder and are first-line pharmacotherapy for both panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, while tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) usually are considered a second-line therapy. "There is good data behind MAO inhibitors, and there is increasingly good data behind [selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors]," he said.

Dr. Hudak disclosed that he receives royalties from the Cambridge University Press.



Caption: Dr. Robert Hudak

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Author:Brunk, Doug
Publication:Clinical Psychiatry News
Date:Apr 1, 2019
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