Anxiety can be a crippling condition that manifests in many ways, both psychological and physiological. From aches and pains to stomach upset, plenty of symptoms are synonymous with the disorder. But did you know that there are other medical conditions that can worsen anxiety symptoms or, in some cases, cause them in the first place? In this article, we will discuss a few common medical conditions that can mimic or worsen anxiety.
Common Conditions That Look Like Anxiety
An overactive thyroid can cause a spike in the body’s metabolic processes, resulting in weight loss, sleep disturbance, nervousness, and heart palpitations, which are all quite common in anxiety as well. Hyperthyroidism has a few distinguishing symptoms, namely increased sensitivity to heat. Hair loss may also be present, as well as a marked protrusion of the eyes (Grave’s Disease).
Untreated hyperthyroidism can result in a “thyroid storm.” This is a rare but life-threatening condition whose symptoms are very similar to a panic attack: rapid heart rate (sometimes more than 140 beats per minute), dizziness, confusion, agitation, and nervousness.
The key difference between an anxiety attack and a thyroid storm is the presence of a high fever in the latter. Patients experiencing a thyroid storm may also show signs of jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).
Asthma can cause rapid breathing, dizziness, and chest pain-all very common symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks. Both asthma and anxiety also tend to worsen under certain conditions, such as high stress or in a triggering environment.
Asthma is most often diagnosed in childhood; however, adult-onset asthma is not unheard of. The main symptoms that distinguish asthma from anxiety are coughing and wheezing, especially in response to certain environmental triggers.
Many individuals experiencing their first panic attack report to the ER thinking they are having a heart attack. According to one study, anxiety was the root cause of chest pain in up to 40 percent of emergency room patients.
Conversely, cardiac problems can also cause symptoms associated with anxiety: increased heart rate, chest pain, rapid breathing, sweating, and dizziness are all common symptoms of both heart problems and anxiety.
Because it can be difficult to rule out heart problems without further testing, any instance of chest pain should be treated as a medical emergency (especially if you do not have a history of panic disorder).
Fibromyalgia is often mistaken for anxiety, since its symptoms can be nonspecific: general aches and pains, fatigue, irregular bowel movements, and temperature fluctuations. Some individuals with fibromyalgia also report feelings of tingling or numbness in their extremities and joint pain. Anxiety and fibromyalgia may both be present in the same individual, with one disorder exacerbating the other.
Untreated diabetes can cause symptoms of anxiety, including sweating, nausea, headache, tremors, and increased heart rate. Type I diabetes can also cause mood swings, weight changes, and fatigue, which are likewise associated with certain types of anxiety.
Type I diabetes is usually diagnosed by adolescence (around age 13), although patients may be diagnosed younger or older. Type II diabetes tends to occur later in life as a result of diet and lifestyle changes. Both types of diabetes cause excessive thirst and, therefore, increased urination. If you are experiencing these symptoms in addition to symptoms of anxiety, you will want to speak with your doctor to rule out an underlying cause.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Many individuals with anxiety report gastrointestinal issues, such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. These symptoms are also common in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). However, IBS typically results in excessive bloating and flatulence. That being said, the two illnesses often occur simultaneously, with one tending to worsen the other.
Primary Care and Mental Health Care Under One Roof
The last thing you need when you are experiencing bothersome symptoms is to be bounced around from practice to practice. As we have seen, many common medical disorders share symptoms with anxiety. In some of these cases, both anxiety and another condition are present at the same time, with one worsening the other.
Having your primary care physician and your mental health provider under one roof can lessen the stress associated with driving to different locations, working with different support staff, and organizing communications between providers. At The Crane Center, we offer our patients the convenience of a board certified family medicine doctor, as well as an entire team of mental health care providers. We can help you determine what may be causing your symptoms, and get you on the path to feeling better. Call or go online today to schedule your first visit.