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NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, Trusted Health Information from the National Institutes of Health

Feature: Phobias and
Anxiety Disorders

Treating Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are generally treated with medication, specific types of psychotherapy such as "talk therapy," or both. Treatment depends on the problem and the person's preference. Before any treatment, a doctor must do a careful evaluation to see whether a person's symptoms are from an anxiety disorder or a physical problem. The doctor must also check for coexisting conditions, such as depression or substance abuse. Sometimes, treatment for the anxiety disorder must wait until after treatment for the other conditions.

How Medications Can Help

Doctors may prescribe medication, along with talk therapy, to help relieve anxiety disorders. Some medicines may take a few weeks to work. Your family doctor or psychiatrist may prescribe:

  • Antidepressants. These medications take up to four to six weeks to begin relieving anxiety. The most widely prescribed antidepressants for anxiety are the SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). Commonly prescribed: Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Lexapro, and Celexa.
  • Anti-anxiety medicines (or "tranquilizers"). These medications produce feelings of calm and relaxation. Side effects may include feeling sleepy, foggy, and uncoordinated. The higher the dose, the greater the chance of side effects. Benzodiazepines are the most common class of anti-anxiety drugs. Commonly prescribed: Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, and Ativan.
  • Beta blockers. These drugs block norepinephrine, the body's "fight-or-flight" stress hormone. This helps control the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid heart rate, a trembling voice, sweating, dizziness, and shaky hands. Because beta blockers don't affect the emotional symptoms of anxiety, such as worry, they're most helpful for phobias, particularly social phobia and performance anxiety. Commonly prescribed: Tenormin and Inderal.

Latest NIH Research

  • Recent research funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has led to a new treatment model for anxiety disorders that shows improved results— Coordinated Anxiety Learning and Management (CALM). CALM includes cognitive behavioral therapy ("talk therapy"), along with medication, tailored to any one of four anxiety disorders—panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • An NIMH-funded study has revealed that female rat brain cells are more sensitive to a key stress hormone than male cells. "Although more research is necessary to determine whether this translates to humans, these findings may help to explain why women are twice as vulnerable as men to many stress-related disorders," says NIMH grantee Rita Valentino Ph.D., of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
  • A specific population of brain cells could provide a target for developing new medications aimed at reducing or stopping the fears underlying anxiety disorders, according to NIMH-supported scientists.

Ask Your Health Professional

  1. How will you find out whether or not I have an anxiety disorder?
  2. What are my treatment options?
  3. Are there any medications that might help?
  4. How long before we know if the medication is helping?
  5. Are there any lifestyle changes I can make to help?
  6. How long will it take before I notice some improvement?
  7. How long will I have to take medication?
  8. How often should I see you about this disorder?
  9. Do I need to see a counselor to help with this?
Read More "Phobias and Anxiety Disorders" Articles

Don't Panic! / Studying Anxiety Disorders / Symptoms: Personal snapshots of anxiety disorders / Treating Anxiety Disorders

Fall 2010 Issue: Volume 5 Number 3 Page 15