Quite commonly, people with anxiety disorders also have other health conditions related to anxiety disorders. These related illnesses might have a similar set of risk factors as anxiety disorders or share overlapping symptoms. The anxiety disorder could also contribute to the co-existing condition in some patients.
These co-existing conditions complicate the diagnosis process for both illnesses. Physicians must interview patients carefully about their symptoms and medical history and be on the lookout for the possibility of multiple conditions. Below is an overview of the some most common conditions found to co-exist with anxiety disorders.
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by dramatic changes in mood that swing from feelings of mania to depression. Among people diagnosed as bipolar, over half also have a co-existing anxiety disorder, according to Everyday Health (2010).
The presence of a co-existing anxiety disorder is associated with severe cases of bipolar disorder. The anxiety disorders most often found in bipolar patients are generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder and social anxiety.
Clinical depression and anxiety disorders appear to be closely linked. Many people with an anxiety disorder â€” perhaps as many as 50 percent, according to PsychCentral (2007) â€” also have depression or show signs of depression. The reason for this link may be tied to the similar neurological causes of the two conditions.
The relationship between sleep disorders and anxiety disorders is sometimes described as a “cycle.” The excess worry and panic that anxiety disorder sufferers experience contributes to their poor sleep. Additionally, a chronic lack of sufficient sleep is a risk for anxiety. Consequently, the two conditions reinforce each other. The encouraging news is that treating the anxiety disorder can often lead to better sleep, thus improving both conditions.
Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are two of the most common eating disorders. People with anorexia refuse to eat adequate quantities of food for fear of gaining weight. People with bulimia partake in binging (overeating) and purging (vomiting or taking laxatives to expel the food).
With both types of eating disorder, the incidence of a co-existing anxiety disorder has been measured to be over 60 percent, according to the American Journal of Psychiatry (2004). The most common anxiety disorder among eating disorder patients is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Studies indicate that people with a preexisting anxiety disorder, particularly OCD, are prone to developing an eating disorder.
Sometimes, people with an anxiety disorder use drugs and alcohol as a means of self-medication. Drug addiction is especially common among people with post-traumatic stress disorder. While alcohol and other drugs may temporarily relieve the symptoms of anxiety, in the long run, they exacerbate the anxiety disorder by affecting brain chemicals associated with mood.
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Iliades, C. (2010). Anxiety and bipolar disorder. Retrieved August 3, 2010, from http://www.everydayhealth.com/bipolar-disorder/anxiety-and-bipolar-disorder.aspx.
Kaye, W., et. al. (2004). “Comorbidity of Anxiety Disorders with Anorexia Nervosa.” American Journal of Psychiatry. 161(12):2215-2221.
Nichols, M. (2008). Anxiety and depression: Two sides of the same coin? Retrieved August 3, 2010, from http://anxietypanichealth.com/2008/09/23/anxiety-and-depression-two-sides-of-the-same-coin/.
Ross, J. (2009). The link between anxiety and sleep disorders. Retrieved August 3, 2010, from http://www.healthcentral.com/anxiety/c/33722/54537/anxiety-disorders.
Science Daily. (2008). PTSD can lead to a more severe course and worse outcomes for a substance-abuse disorder. Retrieved August 3, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080304214437.htm.