What Are the Symptoms of Acute Anxiety?

What Are the Symptoms of Acute Anxiety?
What Are the Symptoms of Acute Anxiety? (Image: Stock.Xchng, www.sxc.hu)

Acute anxiety is a psychiatric condition that occurs in 2 percent of the population. Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from this disorder. It is characterized by sudden and excessive fear followed by a panic attack. Behavior changes in the individual generally follow the panic attack. Although each case is different, acute anxiety can be diagnosed and treated through a variety of ways.


Acute anxiety is characterized by panic attacks that are brought on due to sudden and excessive fear. During a panic attack a person feels a loss of control, sweaty, excessive shaking, rapid breathing or hyperventilating, dizziness, hot flashes, a racing heart and chest pain. Some people describe it as feeling like a heart attack. Panic attacks are generally followed by behavior changes in the individual. Depression, anger, emotional numbness, nightmares and flashbacks can occur. The person may also be easily startled. Acute anxiety disorder usually appears in children and adults before the age of 24; however any age group can experience this disorder.

Depression is only one cause of acute anxiety.
Depression is only one cause of acute anxiety.


While the exact causes of acute anxiety are unknown, researchers have found that this condition generally coexists in those who suffer from panic disorder, alcoholism or depression. Many times a person with acute anxiety also has one or more phobias such as social phobia or a fear of death. Allergies to foods, poor nutrition, stress and chemical imbalances may also be causes of acute anxiety. A person who has suffered a traumatic or terrifying experience may also suffer from acute anxiety. People who use hallucination-inducing drugs or ingest stimulants such as coffee or tobacco are also at risk. Genetics also plays a role in acute anxiety as it has been found to run in families.


Symptoms of acute anxiety disorder are placed in four groups, physical, mental, emotional and perceptual. Physical symptoms include experiencing at least four or more of the following: twitching, shaking, trembling, rapid heartbeat, hyperventilating, dizziness, nervousness, muscle tension, hot flashes, stomach upset, chills, cold sweats, restlessness or chest pain. Excessive amounts of norepinephrine in the system increase the pulse rate and breathing, resulting in a panic attack. Mental symptoms include feelings of terror and extreme fear, loss of control, confusing internal or external dialogue with oneself, confusion and paranoia. Emotional symptoms are changes in behavior such as excessive crying, anger, depression, flashbacks and nightmares. Many people with acute anxiety experience perceptual symptoms such as time slowing down or speeding up, tunnel vision or feeling as if they are in a dream-like state.


Doctors have various tests to determine if a patient is suffering from acute anxiety or another form of anxiety. First they rule out any physical conditions that may be the source of the symptoms, such as heart problems or asthma, which have similar symptoms to a panic attack. Other symptoms, such as quantity and severity of panic attacks, length of time of behavioral changes after a panic attack and the length of time of fear of recurring panic attacks after experiencing one are all taken into account when diagnosing acute anxiety. Once a diagnosis has been made a treatment plan can be put in place.

Acute anxiety can be treated successfully.
Acute anxiety can be treated successfully.


Treatment consists of either psychotherapy or medication, or both. Diet changes may also be prescribed such as avoiding refined sugar, white flour and foods high in carbohydrates so the patient's blood sugar does not fluctuate wildly. Adding exercise is beneficial to those with acute anxiety because the chemicals released in the body during exercise help to stabilize mood. Relaxation techniques are also beneficial for patients to learn self-soothing during times of stress. With the right treatment it is possible for a patient to control their acute anxiety successfully.

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