09/26/04 — Cherry physician speaks on anxiety disorders

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Cherry physician speaks on anxiety disorders

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on September 26, 2004 2:03 AM

We have names for them -- worrywarts, nervous Nellies, scaredy-cats. What we need instead is some understanding and insight, a Cherry Hospital psychiatrist said Wednesday.

Anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric illnesses and affect both children and adults, Dr. Kim Johnson said. About 10 percent of the U.S. population, or nearly 30 million, experiences anxiety disorders in a typical year.

But the disorders are often not recognized and therefore untreated.

Luckily, most conditions can be successfully treated with psychotherpay, medications or a combination, she said.

Dr. Johnson's talk, held at the Wayne County public schools administration building, was the first of the Mental Health Association in Wayne County's fall series of "Lunch and Learn" seminars.

She began by assuring the audience that some fits of nerves are OK.

"Anxiety is part of everyone's life. It's normal and it's expected," she said.

It's only considered a disorder when it causes chronic suffering, interferes with a person's ability to do a job, or harms relationships with family and friends, she said.

Also, normal anxiety tends to be in response to stress and usually eases after time, while an anxiety disorder can be triggered without any known cause and be persistent.

Anxiety can also be caused by medical conditions such as hyperthyroidism, drug intoxication or withdrawal, cardiovascular or respiratory diseases, or metabolic or neurological disorders.

Dr. Johnson gave information on several disorders:

*Panic disorder, which is characterized by severe, unexpected panic attacks that might include chest pain, heart palpitations, sweating, trembling, nausea, vomiting or other symptoms of a heart attack. Often, this disorder follows a stressful life event, such as marital separation or job loss, she said. The fear of these attacks can cause drastic behavioral changes.

*Social phobia, which is fear of behaving in a way that might be embarrassing if seen by others. This can include fear of speaking or eating in public, of crowds, or of using a public restroom. What separates this from normal performance anxiety is that most people can overcome these fears with experience.

*Specific phobias, a marked, disabling fear of a specific object or situation, such as spiders, snakes or heights. A person with a phobia of snakes may recognize it as irrational but still may not be able to leave the house for fear of seeing one, she said.

*Generalized anxiety disorder, which is excessive, uncontrollable worry that lasts six months or more. Symptoms can include restlessness, fatigue, problems with concentration, dizziness, and irritability.

*Post-traumatic stress disorder following exposure to a traumatic event such as threat of death, physical assault, witnessing a death, the unexpected death of a loved one, or natural disaster. The person will persistently re-experience the event, through dreams or flashbacks.

*Obsessive-compulsive disorder, characterized by irresistible, recurring thoughts. These obsessions may lead to repetitive, irrational behaviors, such as washing hands, counting or checking to see if a door is locked or an oven turned off.

*Separation anxiety disorder, which affects children, mainly ages 3-18. It's characterized as excessive anxiety about being away from a parent or home or excessive worry about a possible loss.

Anxiety disorders are highly treatable with psycho-social therapies, medication, or both, Dr. Johnson said.

She recommended psychotherapy as the "first-line" treatment. Therapy can identify the irrational thoughts that cause many behaviors and help people replace them.

But there's a variety of drugs that can be helpful. Most have side effects that can include an initial worsening of anxiety. People should consult with their physicians to find medicines that work and have a minimum of unwanted side effects, she said.

The next "Lunch and Learn" seminar will be Wednesday, Oct. 13. Jennifer McLamb is scheduled to speak on eating disorders. Call 735-3530 for more information or reservations for the free seminar.