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Anxiety Disorder Caused by Other General Medical Conditions

Patients with cancer may experience anxiety that is caused by other medical conditions. Patients who are experiencing severe pain feel anxious, and anxiety can increase pain. The sudden appearance of extreme anxiety may be a symptom of infection, pneumonia, or an imbalance in the body's chemistry. It may also occur before a heart attack or blood clot in the lung, and be accompanied by chest pain or trouble breathing. A decrease in the amount of oxygen that the blood is able to carry may also make the patient feel as though he or she is suffocating, which can cause anxiety.
Anxiety is a direct or indirect side effect of some medications. Some medications can cause anxiety, while others may cause restlessness, agitation, depression, thoughts of suicide, irritability, or trembling.
Certain tumors may cause anxiety or produce symptoms that resemble anxiety and panic by creating chemical imbalances or shortness of breath.

Different Treatments for Cancer and Anxiety

It may be difficult to distinguish between the normal fears associated with cancer and abnormally severe fears that can be classified as an anxiety disorder. Treatment depends on how the anxiety is affecting daily life for the patient. Anxiety that is caused by pain, another medical condition, a specific type of tumor, or as a side effect of medication is usually controlled by treating the underlying cause.
Treatment for anxiety begins by giving the patient adequate information and support. Developing coping strategies can help to relieve anxiety. Some of these coping strategies can include:
  • The patient viewing his or her cancer from the perspective of a problem to be solved
  • Obtaining enough information in order to fully understand his or her disease and treatment options
  • Utilizing available resources and support systems.
Patients may benefit from other treatment options for anxiety, including:
  • Psychotherapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Self-help groups
  • Hypnosis
  • Relaxation techniques, such as guided imagery (a form of focused concentration on mental images to assist in stress management) or biofeedback (a method of early detection of the symptoms of anxiety in order to take preventative action).
Medications may be used alone or in combination with these techniques. Patients should not avoid anxiety-relieving medications for fear of becoming addicted. Their doctors will give them sufficient medication to alleviate the symptoms and decrease the amount of the drug as the symptoms diminish.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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