What is an anxiety disorder?
An anxiety disorder covers many different types of mental illnesses including pathological anxiety and fear. Most people experience anxiety or worry at some time in their lives, but when worry becomes excessive and interferes with a person's daily life it is considered an anxiety disorder. Up to 13% of all people suffer from some form of anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. Anxiety disorder symptoms range from mild to severe.
Anxiety disorder symptoms
Mild symptoms include headache and feeling uneasy or nervous. Severe symptoms include constant fatigue, chest pain, pounding heartbeat, sweating, and dizziness. Some people have symptoms of anxiety disorder and depression at the same time. Certain medical conditions and drug therapies mimic the symptoms of anxiety disorder, so it's important to discuss these symptoms with your doctor.
Muscle relaxation, biofeedback, meditation, counseling, and lifestyle changes that reduce stress can all help anxiety disorder. Sometimes these methods work so well that other therapies aren't needed. Prescription drugs and herbal treatments are available if non-drug treatments do not work completely.
Herbal treatments for anxiety disorders include kava kava (also called kava) and valerian have been used to help people.
- Kava kava: Kava has been used to relieve anxiety and improve sleep. Since kava may increase the effects of alcohol, do not drink alcohol when taking it. Doses of 200 to 250 mg per day are considered safe and effective. There have been some links to liver toxicity with the use of kava, so the U.S. FDA has issued these warnings to consumers regarding the use of kava.
- Valerian: Valerian is a mild sedative. Its side effects are reported to be minimal when used at the recommended dose of 300 to 500 mg per day.
The effectiveness of these herbs has not been proven by medical research and benefits have not been directly compared to those of prescription drugs.
Over-the-counter anxiety treatments
Unfortunately, there are no over-the-counter non-prescription drug treatments for anxiety disorders.
Prescription anxiety treatments
There are several types of prescription drugs and treatments that can help people with anxiety disorders.
- Benzodiazepines: Drugs in the class are used most often to treat anxiety disorders. They work in the brain to relax the mind and body. Alprazolam (Xanax®), clonazepam (Klonopin®), diazepam (Valium® ), and lorazepam (Ativan®) are examples of benzodiazepine medicines. Your doctor should supervise your care closely if you take one of these drugs, because they can lead to physical dependence.
- Buspirone: Buspirone (Buspar®) is another medicine that is very effective in treating anxiety and is less likely to cause physical dependence than the benzodiazepines. It is usually taken twice a day, in the morning and again at bedtime.
- Antidepressants: Antidepressants such as amitriptyline (Elavil®), fluoxetine (Prozac®), venlafaxine (Effexor®), fluvoxamine (Luvox®), imipramine (Tofranil®), paroxetine (Paxil®), and sertraline (Zoloft®) are also used to treat anxiety disorders and are most helpful for people who have symptoms of both depression and anxiety.
Back to Ask a Pharmacist