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PTSD and Anxiety Disorders

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Updated June 17, 2014

It is not surprising that there is a strong connection between PTSD and anxiety disorders. The symptoms of PTSD can have a tremendous effect on a person's life. Not only are the symptoms of PTSD distressing, but a person with PTSD may also be more likely to develop other mental disorders, especially anxiety disorders.

In addition to the stress-related anxiety disorders of PTSD and Acute Stress Disorder, the anxiety disorders include Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Specific Phobia. Each of these disorders will be briefly reviewed below, as well as the rate with which they occur among people who have had PTSD at some point in their lifetime.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (or GAD) is an anxiety disorder that is characterized by excessive and uncontrollable worry about a number of things.

Approximately 17% of people who have had PTSD at some point in their life have been found to also have GAD at some point in their lifetime. People with a history of PTSD are almost 6 times as likely to have a current or past diagnosis of GAD as compared to people without PTSD.

Panic Disorder

People with Panic Disorder experience frequent and unexpected or "out of the blue" panic attacks (intense and sudden feelings of fear, impending doom, and/or terror), as well as worry and concern about having future attacks.

Around 7% of people who have had PTSD at some point in their life also have had a diagnosis of Panic Disorder. People who have or have had a diagnosis of PTSD are 4 times as likely to also have a current or past diagnosis of Panic Disorder as compared to people without PTSD.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social Anxiety Disorder or Social Phobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by the experience of intense fear in and avoidance of social situations (for example, public speaking, eating in front of others, meeting new people). This fear stems from strong concerns about being negatively evaluated or judged by other people.

People with PTSD may feel "different" from other people or as if they "don't fit in." A person with PTSD may also feel as though social situations are dangerous and therefore can be suspicious of other people. Given this, it is not surprising that Social Anxiety Disorder co-occurs with PTSD at a high rate.

Approximately 28% of people with a current or past diagnosis of PTSD also have or have had a diagnosis of Social Anxiety Disorder. People who have had PTSD at some point in their life are 3 times as likely as someone without PTSD to have also had Social Anxiety Disorder.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

The main features of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (or OCD) are re-occurring and excessive obsessive and/or intrusive thoughts, as well as repetitive behaviors or thoughts (also called compulsions), such as hand washing, counting, or checking.

Fewer studies have looked at the co-occurrence of PTSD and OCD. It has been found that anywhere between 4% to 22% of people with PTSD also have a diagnosis of OCD.

Specific Phobia

Specific Phobia (sometimes referred to as Simple Phobia) is an anxiety disorder where a person has a fear of specific objects (for example, spiders, blood, snakes, dogs) and/or situations (for example, elevators, bridges, heights).

Approximately 31% of people who have had PTSD at some point in their life also had or have had a specific phobia. People with a history of PTSD are 7 times as likely as people without a history of PTSD to have also had a specific phobia.

What Does This All Mean?

In a nutshell, these rates mean that having a diagnosis of PTSD puts you at risk to have more problems in the form of additional anxiety disorders. If you have a diagnosis of PTSD, it is very important to seek treatment as soon as possible. Early attention to symptoms of PTSD can reduce the likelihood that they lead to the development of other problems with anxiety that could become another anxiety disorder.

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 4th ed. Washington, DC: Author.

Hubbert, J.D., Moser, J.S., Gershuny, B.S., Riggs, D.S., Spokas, M., Filip, J. et al. (2005). The relationship between obsessive-compulsive and posttraumatic stress symptoms in clinical and non-clinical samples. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 19, 127-136.

Kessler, R.C., Sonnega, A., Bromet, E., Hughes, M., & Nelson, C.B. (1995). Posttraumatic stress disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey. Archives of General Psychiatry, 52, 1048-1060.

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