What is anxiety due to a medical condition?

Anxiety due to a medical condition means that a medical problem causes symptoms such as feeling nervous, worried, or jittery. You may have panic attacks or feel that something terrible is going to happen.

This disorder is different from being nervous and worried about your illness. If you have this disorder, your medical condition physically causes anxiety.

What is the cause?

Many medical conditions change the amounts of chemicals called neurotransmitters in your nervous system. Too little or too much of these chemicals can cause mood problems. Many medical problems upset the balance of neurotransmitters in your body, such as:

  • heart failure or abnormal heart rhythms
  • brain or nervous system problems such as encephalitis, strokes, Parkinson’s disease, MS, and head injuries
  • hormone imbalances caused by pituitary, thyroid, or adrenal gland problems, or by diabetes
  • breathing problems such as shallow, rapid breathing; pneumonia; or chronic lung disease
  • withdrawal from sedatives or pain medicines.

Certain medicines that you take for a medical problem may cause or add to the symptoms of anxiety. Some of these medicines are:

  • decongestants such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed)
  • bronchodilators
  • insulin
  • medicines for Parkinson’s disease
  • steroids.

What are the symptoms?

Besides feeling nervous and worried, you may also:

  • Think that bad things will happen or that you will never get better.
  • Have trouble falling asleep or wake up often during the night.
  • Lose weight because you don’t feel like eating.
  • Fear that you are losing control of yourself and will go crazy or will die.
  • Have chills, hot flashes, sweating, shaking, or numbness.
  • Feel your heart race or pound.
  • Have trouble concentrating or remembering things.
  • Have trouble breathing or swallowing due to muscle tightness.
  • Feel pain in your chest, stomach, or abdomen.
  • Throw up or have nausea or diarrhea without a clear physical cause.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and any drug or alcohol use. You may have some lab tests to rule out other medical problems.

How is it treated?

Do not try to overcome anxiety by yourself. There may be a treatment for your medical problem that will reduce your nervousness and worry. If not, you may be able to treat the anxiety with psychotherapy or antianxiety medicines. Discuss the options with your healthcare provider or therapist.


Several types of medicines can help treat anxiety. Your healthcare provider will work with you to select the best one for you. Be sure that you tell all healthcare providers who treat you about all the medicines you take (even nonprescription medicines). This is very important when any provider prescribes a new medicine to ensure that you do not take too many medicines. Also, some medicines change the way other medicines work.

Seeing a therapist can help. There are several kinds of therapy that can help a person with anxiety. Support groups are also helpful.

Claims have been made that certain herbal and dietary products help control anxiety symptoms. No herb or dietary supplement has been proven to consistently or completely relieve anxiety. Supplements are not tested or standardized and may vary in strength and effects. They may have side effects and are not always safe.

Learning ways to relax may help. Yoga and meditation may also be helpful. You may want to talk with your healthcare provider about using these methods along with medicines and psychotherapy.

How long will the effects last?

As your physical condition improves your anxiety will usually improve. However, if your health remains poor, anxiety may continue. Seek professional help to overcome anxiety, or at least reduce it.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Get support. Talk with family and friends. Consider joining a support group in your area.
  • Learn to manage stress. Ask for help at home and work when the load is too great to handle. Find ways to relax, for example take up a hobby, listen to music, watch movies, take walks. Try deep breathing exercises when you feel stressed.
  • Take care of your physical health. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Eat a healthy diet. Limit caffeine. If you smoke, quit. Avoid alcohol and drugs, because they can make your symptoms worse. Exercise according to your healthcare provider’s instructions.
  • Check your medicines. To help prevent problems, tell your healthcare provider and pharmacist about all the medicines, natural remedies, vitamins, and other supplements that you take.
  • Contact your healthcare provider or therapist if you have any questions or your symptoms seem to be getting worse.

Get emergency help immediately if you or a loved one has serious thoughts of suicide or harming others, or if you have chest pain.

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