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Anxiety DisordersA Review

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Importance  Anxiety disorders have a lifetime prevalence of approximately 34% in the US, are often chronic, and significantly impair quality of life and functioning.

Observations  Anxiety disorders are characterized by symptoms that include worry, social and performance fears, unexpected and/or triggered panic attacks, anticipatory anxiety, and avoidance behaviors. Generalized anxiety disorder (6.2% lifetime prevalence), social anxiety disorder (13% lifetime prevalence), and panic disorder (5.2% lifetime prevalence) with or without agoraphobia are common anxiety disorders seen in primary care. Anxiety disorders are associated with physical symptoms, such as palpitations, shortness of breath, and dizziness. Brief screening measures applied in primary care, such as the Generalized Anxiety Disorder–7, can aid in diagnosis of anxiety disorders (sensitivity, 57.6% to 93.9%; specificity, 61% to 97%). Providing information about symptoms, diagnosis, and evidence-based treatments is a first step in helping patients with anxiety. First-line treatments include pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs, eg, sertraline) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs, eg, venlafaxine extended release) remain first-line pharmacotherapy for generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. Meta-analyses suggest that SSRIs and SNRIs are associated with small to medium effect sizes compared with placebo (eg, generalized anxiety disorder: standardized mean difference [SMD], −0.55 [95% CI, −0.64 to −0.46]; social anxiety disorder: SMD, −0.67 [95% CI, −0.76 to −0.58]; panic disorder: SMD, −0.30 [95% CI, −0.37 to −0.23]). Cognitive behavioral therapy is the psychotherapy with the most evidence of efficacy for anxiety disorders compared with psychological or pill placebo (eg, generalized anxiety disorder: Hedges g = 1.01 [large effect size] [95% CI, 0.44 to 1.57]; social anxiety disorder: Hedges g = 0.41 [small to medium effect] [95% CI, 0.25 to 0.57]; panic disorder: Hedges g = 0.39 [small to medium effect[ [95% CI, 0.12 to 0.65]), including in primary care. When selecting treatment, clinicians should consider patient preference, current and prior treatments, medical and psychiatric comorbid illnesses, age, sex, and reproductive planning, as well as cost and access to care.

Conclusions and Relevance  Anxiety disorders affect approximately 34% of adults during their lifetime in the US and are associated with significant distress and impairment. First-line treatments for anxiety disorders include cognitive behavioral therapy, SSRIs such as sertraline, and SNRIs such as venlafaxine extended release.

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Article Information

Corresponding Author: Naomi M. Simon, MD, MSc, Department of Psychiatry, New York University Grossman School of Medicine, 1 Park Ave, 8th Floor, New York, NY 10016 (naomi.simon@nyulangone.org).

Accepted for Publication: November 18, 2022.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Szuhany reported receiving grants from the National Institutes of Health (K23MH122773), Brain & Behavior Research Foundation (Young Investigator Award), National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (5KL2 TR001446-05), Department of Defense, and Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute outside the submitted work. Dr Simon reported receiving grants from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Department of Defense, Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, National Institutes of Health, and Cohen Veterans Network; personal fees from Bionomic Ltd, BehavR LLC, Vanda Pharmaceuticals, Praxis Therapeutics, Cerevel, Genomind, Engrail Therapeutics, and Wiley; royalty from Wolters Kluwer and APA Publishing; and spousal equity from G1 Therapeutics and Zentalis outside the submitted work.

Funding/Support: Dr Szuhany’s work was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (K23MH122773) and by a National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia & Depression Young Investigator Grant from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation.

Role of the Funder/Sponsor: The funders had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; and decision to submit the manuscript for publication.

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AMA CME Accreditation Information

Credit Designation Statement: The American Medical Association designates this Journal-based CME activity activity for a maximum of 1.00  AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)™. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.

Successful completion of this CME activity, which includes participation in the evaluation component, enables the participant to earn up to:

  • 1.00 Medical Knowledge MOC points in the American Board of Internal Medicine's (ABIM) Maintenance of Certification (MOC) program;;
  • 1.00 Self-Assessment points in the American Board of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery’s (ABOHNS) Continuing Certification program;
  • 1.00 MOC points in the American Board of Pediatrics’ (ABP) Maintenance of Certification (MOC) program;
  • 1.00 Lifelong Learning points in the American Board of Pathology’s (ABPath) Continuing Certification program; and
  • 1.00 CME points in the American Board of Surgery’s (ABS) Continuing Certification program

It is the CME activity provider's responsibility to submit participant completion information to ACCME for the purpose of granting MOC credit.

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