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Anxiety-panic disorders health centre

Anxiety - How do doctors diagnose anxiety disorder?

BMJ Group Medical Reference

If you think you may have anxiety disorder, you should see your GP. He or she will need to ask you questions to see how anxious you are and how much you worry.

It's normal to worry, so your GP will need to find out whether you are worrying more than you should. Here are the sorts of questions your GP will ask to find out whether you have anxiety disorder.[3]

  • Are you worried and anxious about lots of things?

  • Is your worry out of proportion?

  • How long have you been worrying like this? (Doctors call your worry anxiety disorder if it has gone on for at least six months).

  • Do you find it difficult to control your worrying?

  • Does worry interfere with your life?

You doctor will also ask whether you've had any of these symptoms and if so, how often.

  • Feeling restless.

  • Becoming tired easily.

  • Finding it hard to concentrate or that your mind goes blank.

  • Being irritable.

  • Tension in your muscles.

  • Finding it hard to fall asleep or not sleeping well.

Your doctor may also ask about your general health, whether you are taking any medication, and what's going on in your life. He or she may want to talk to your family and partner too. He or she may want to ask about your medical history or do a physical examination to rule out any medical problems.

It can be hard to talk about yourself in this way. Try to give your answers in your own words and in your own time.

Some doctors also use questionnaires to measure your symptoms. To read more about these tests, see Symptom rating scales.

There are some useful questions you can ask yourself if you think you may have problems with anxiety. To read more, see Test yourself for anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorder can be hard to spot

Doctors often don't diagnose anxiety disorder straight away. Many patients end up seeing several doctors, over many months or years, before they find out they have anxiety disorder and start having treatment. There are several reasons for this.

  • Many people with anxiety disorder don't talk to a doctor about it because they just think of themselves as natural worriers. You may assume you were born that way and that there's nothing a doctor can do about anxiety. Only about half the people with anxiety disorder see a doctor about it.[1][2]

  • Some of the symptoms of anxiety disorder are similar to the symptoms of other mental health problems, such as depression or panic attacks. So a doctor may think a patient has one of these other disorders. And many people with anxiety disorder also have other mental health disorders, so a doctor may diagnose another problem without realising that you also have anxiety disorder.[5][10][23]

  • Anxiety disorder often causes real aches and pains, so a doctor may look only for a physical cause and overlook the possibility of a mental health problem. Or the doctor may think that the physical symptoms are a sign of heart disease or another physical illness.[2][10][29]

Some of the physical diseases that share symptoms with anxiety disorder can be very serious. So your doctor will want to be certain that you don't have any of these disorders. Depending on your symptoms, your GP may give you blood tests or other medical tests to rule out the possibility of heart disease, thyroid disease, or other illnesses.

Last Updated: December 17, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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