Medical Causes of Anxiety

If you have symptoms of anxiety, it is very important that physical and medical causes are ruled out. In fact this is the first step to dealing with an nervous disorder. If you have symptoms of nervousness it is essential that you visit your doctor to discuss your symptoms and be checked for medical causes of “nerves”. This involves a physical examination and blood tests. There are numerous medical conditions that can associated with symptoms of nervousness. These include: cardiovascular problems (such as cardiac arrhythmias, mitral valve prolapse), asthma, thyroid disorders, diabetes, seizure disorders and middle ear problems. Rare causes include: phaeochromocytoma (a tumour that secretes epinephrine – adrenaline).

An overactive thyroid is especially likely to causes nervous symptoms. Thyroxine hormone in excess amounts increases the body’s metabolic rate and causes palpitations, tremor, worry, weight loss and hyperactivity. Medications that can cause anxiety symptoms include: stimulants, thyroid supplements (levothyroxine, thyroxine), cold medications (decongestants – pseudoephedrine), tranquilisers, sleeping pills, some blood pressure medications, steroids, and antidepressants (eg SSRI’s such as fluoxetine and sertraline can precipitate anxiety, even though they also treat anxiety).

Sometimes anxiety symptoms are due to unsupervised experimentation with or withdrawal from a medication. In addition, common legal and illegal recreational drugs can cause anxiety symptoms. These include: caffeine, alcohol, marijuana, amphetamines, ecstasy and cocaine.

It is important to identify medical causes of anxiousness, but sometimes diagnosing and resolving the medical issue does not end the nervous problem. Sometimes, nervousness that begins with a medical cause or drug, continues because the nervous condition takes on a life of its own. The anxiety may continue long after the original cause has been treated or resolved. Therefore it is important to sort out the medical cause, and also deal with the worry symptoms and thought processes and behaviours that continue to maintain the tension and worry symptoms, even when the original cause has been treated.


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