How is an Anxiety Disorder Diagnosed?

Eileen Bailey Health Guide

    Anxiety disorders are medical conditions and require a diagnosis to be made by a qualified medical professional. But there are no blood tests or other lab tests, there are no x-rays or brain scans that will definitively determine if someone has an anxiety disorder. How then does a doctor make an accurate diagnosis? As with many mental illnesses, the diagnosis of an anxiety disorder is based on the symptoms you discuss with your doctor.


    The Initial Evaluation


    When you first contact your doctor about anxiety, your doctor will ask questions about your medical history, including family medical history. He will ask questions about physical as well as emotional illnesses and disorders you have had in the past as well as those your parents and siblings may have. Because anxiety is considered to be hereditary in many cases, understanding family medical history helps during the diagnostic process.

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    You will also need to talk with your doctor about your symptoms. He will want to know:

    • What symptoms you are experiencing, both emotionally and physically
    • How often you experience symptoms of anxiety
    • The intensity of your symptoms
    • How long you have been having symptoms
    • How the symptoms interfere with your daily life
    • Whether you are experiencing a stressful situation in your life
    • Whether you drink alcohol or use drugs and if so, how much and how often

    Ruling Out Physical Illness


    When we go to the doctor for the flu, our symptoms are looked at as a group and the doctor will determine if these symptoms are similar enough to those of the flu to decide if you do indeed have the flu. For anxiety, the process is somewhat different. Because anxiety can cause a multitude of physical symptoms, such as heart palpitations, sweating and feeling as if you can't breathe, your doctor may need to rule out, or eliminate, physical illness before diagnosing an anxiety disorder. He may send you for an EKG to check out your heart or request blood work to rule out other physical illnesses.


    Referral to Mental Health Professional


    Once your doctor has ruled out all physical illnesses and conditions, he may refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist for further evaluation or may be familiar enough with anxiety disorders to feel comfortable continuing the diagnostic process.  A mental health professional will want to know all of the same information as your general practitioner but will use this information to determine if you have an anxiety disorder. He will probably refer to the Diagnostic and Statistical manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR-4th Edition), which is published by the American Psychiatric Association and provides diagnostic criteria for all anxiety disorders. Your mental health professional will compare your symptoms to those in the DSM to determine if you have an anxiety disorder.


    For more information:


    Anxiety Disorders - Diagnosis


    Diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder


    Difficulties in Diagnosing PTSD


Published On: May 02, 2011