What Are the Complications of Anxiety?

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on September 24, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, MBA on September 24, 2014

What Are the Complications of Anxiety?

An anxiety disorder is a medical condition that interferes  with your life. It makes it difficult for you to handle job or school responsibilities, do daily tasks, concentrate, and establish and maintain personal relationships. It might make it difficult for you to leave your home or even get out of bed. Untreated anxiety can increase your risk of more severe, even life-threatening conditions.

The potential complications of anxiety disorder include the following:

Depression

Anxiety disorder and depression often occur together.  They have similar symptoms and can be difficult to tell apart. Both can cause agitation, insomnia, the inability to concentrate, and feelings of anxiety.

Suicide

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, over 90 percent of people who die by suicide have been diagnosed with mental illness. This can include anxiety. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 4 percent of adults per year in the United States have serious thoughts about suicide. These numbers are even higher in people who also suffer from depression.

If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or social phobia, you are also at an increased risk for suicide. If you have one of these anxiety disorders along with depression, your risk is even greater. 

Substance Abuse

If you have anxiety disorder, you are at a high risk for addiction to many substances. These include alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs. If you have depression along with anxiety disorder, your risk increases.

Often, people with anxiety use alcohol and other substances to relieve their symptoms. There is no evidence that alcohol actually relieves anxiety, but the belief that it does can bring some relief. However, long-term alcohol use can cause biological changes that may actually produce anxiety.

People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and social phobia are especially at risk for alcohol and drug abuse. Smoking and substance abuse are also common in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Adolescents with PTSD also have an increased risk of eating disorders.

Physical Illness

Anxiety disorder increases your risk of developing certain illnesses. Chronic stress can compromise your immune system. This makes you more susceptible to infections, such as colds, the flu, and other viral and bacterial diseases.

Anxiety disorder has also been associated with:

  • an increased risk of heart disease
  • headaches, both tension and migraine
  • irritable bowel syndrome and other gastrointestinal disorders
  • obesity
  • respiratory problems
  • allergies
  • sleep disturbances
  • teeth grinding

Long-Term Outlook

There is no cure for anxiety disorder. It is a chronic condition that can take many forms. The long-term outlook depends on the severity of your condition. Most people with OCD, phobias, and panic disorder improve greatly within the first weeks or months of proper treatment. Many people with PTSD and GAD can also make substantial improvement. Some symptoms of anxiety disorder seem to diminish with age.

Stress management will probably be an ongoing concern, and symptoms may flare during periods of acute stress. But with a combination of medication and psychotherapy, most people with anxiety disorder can get their symptoms under control and live a fairly normal and comfortable life. 

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