Anxiety disorders are medical diagnoses. For many medical conditions, the diagnostic process includes a blood test, scans or x-rays or some other type of physical test. Anxiety, however, like other mental health conditions, cannot be diagnosed with a physical test such as a blood test. So how is an anxiety disorder diagnosed?
Diagnosing anxiety usually begins with your family doctor. Sometimes, individuals suffering from anxiety have a number of physical symptoms, such as chest pains or shortness of breath, which they seek medical attention for. Your medical doctor may run a number of tests to rule out any physical conditions causing your symptoms. This might include blood and urine tests, stress tests or EKGs to test your heart. In addition to physical tests, your doctor will review your medical history, including your family history of physical and mental illnesses and will ask for information about your symptoms.
If your doctor determines that there is nothing physically wrong that is causing your symptoms, you might be referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist. You will probably be asked questions about how you have been feeling. For example:
- How often do you worry?
- Do you worry every day?
- Are you unable to control your worry?
- Do you worry even after something has happened?
- What do you worry about?
- Do you worry about incidental things as well as more important situations?
- Do you feel fearful of talking to people, driving, or other every day activities?
- Do you have difficulty focusing or concentrating?
- Do you often feel agitated, nervous or restless?
- Do you have physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomach aches, sweating, shortness of breath or chest pains without physical cause?
- Do you become angry or irritated easily?
- Do you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep?
- Are you often tired or depressed?
- Does your worry or fears stop you from doing things you enjoy?
- Do you get upset easily when thinking about unpleasant things?
- Do you feel panicky?
Because there are many different types of anxiety and they can be caused by different things. For example, post traumatic stress disorder is caused by a previous traumatic event and other anxiety disorders could be a combination of environmental and biological factors, questions might include asking about your childhood and your family medical history.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the most used book for diagnosing mental illness, symptoms of anxiety must be present for at least 6 months and must cause impairment in your life. Therefore, your doctor will want to know both the intensity of your symptoms and feelings of anxiety and how long you have been experiencing anxiety. Your doctor will use your answers to these questions as well as observations of your behaviors and reactions to determine if you have an anxiety disorder.
“How are Anxiety Disorders Diagnosed?”, Date Unknown, Cleveland Clinic
“How is an Anxiety Disorder Diagnosed?”, Dec 2010, Paul Dooley, AnxietyGuru
“How is Anxiety Disorder Diagnosed?”, Nan Little, Insight Journal