Do you know someone means when he talks about having panic and anxiety attacks? Where does the phrase “anxiety disorder” fit with these terms? People often use these words interchangeably, but there are some important differences to understand in order to properly identify which ailment a person suffers from.

All of the categories below have similar characteristics, but there are some identifying features that set them apart. By recognizing which group your symptoms fit into, you and your health care provider will also be able to better distinguish what treatment options might be best for your case. Here are descriptions of the most common anxiety disorders:

Specific phobias are the most common of the anxiety disorders. A phobia is a powerfully-strong fear of a certain object or event. People may have fear of flying, or fear of heights, fear of closed places, or fear of snakes. Fancy names describe various phobias, such as the fear of spiders, known as arachnophobia and the fear of the number 13, known as triskaidekaphobia. These fears are often irrational and may interfere with normal daily-life for the patients who suffer.

Panic disorder is a well-known category of the anxiety disorders. People who suffer panic attacks come into a situation and suddenly experience symptoms such as trembling, chest pain, dizziness, sweating, and a racing heart. Even though there is not an actual threat present, the person may feel like they are going to die. Because someone suffering from a panic attack does not always recognize it as such, emergency rooms see patients who think they may be having a heart attack. When heart attacks are ruled out, the patients go away thinking that the problem is all in their head, when in fact, they do have a true medical condition that can be treated.

Social anxiety disorder is when a person is afraid of being embarrassed in a public setting. These settings can include a public-speaking engagement or something as innocuous as just eating at a public restaurant. People who suffer from social phobia are worried about being falsely judged, critiqued, or made fun of by other people. They may spend hours or days anticipating humiliation and may even avoid public events altogether. Some of the physical symptoms they may experience include upset stomach, diarrhea, intense blushing, profuse sweating, and shakiness. As the patient becomes aware of these symptoms, the symptoms are magnified which leads to increased symptoms in a downward spiral that “proves” to the sufferer that he should have never gone out in the first place–a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Generalized anxiety disorder is a condition where a patient constantly worries about two or more items in their life and where he feels continual tension in life. The focus of worry can be one or more of the following: familial relationships, employment, physical well-being, or financial status. This goes well beyond the normal amount of stress people often feel in their lives regarding these areas. Some of the physical symptoms that might be experienced are: dizziness, nausea, racing heart, extreme tiredness, insomnia, and muscle aches.

Post-traumatic stress disorder may arise when a person suffers a traumatic episode in their life. We hear of many PTSD cases among military personnel who return from war zones and battlegrounds. Victims of rape, witnesses of deaths or crime scenes, or people who are caught up in natural disasters are all potential PTSD candidates. The overlying symptom of someone with post-traumatic stress disorder is that they constantly relive the episode they experienced that originally triggered the PTSD. These flashbacks can occur during horrifyingly-detailed nightmares or they may happen suddenly at any point during the day. Often there is an event that triggers the memory, even if the patient is not fully conscious of that event and what is happening. Symptoms of this disorder include an active startle reflex, constant awareness of the surrounding environment, inability to sleep, and sometimes even outbursts of violent behavior.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is the final category of anxiety disorders. People with this disorder suffer from constant fear regarding a situation that compels that to act in a way that negates or cancels out the situation. For instance, someone who is terrified of germs may wash their hands repeatedly, even to the point of having dry, cracked, and bleeding skin. The obsessive part of the disorder’s name comes from the continual thoughts held by the patient. The compulsive part is the action they take to address their thoughts.

As you can see from these brief descriptions, there are some obvious differences between the listed groups. The differences are found in symptoms exhibited, the factors surrounding the onset of the disorder, and the behaviors displayed once an episode begins. By taking all of these factors into account, you can pinpoint which category of anxiety disorders fits you best. Once that identification is made, you can go on to finding an appropriate treatment plan.

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