Anxiety is a normal part of life, with most people experiencing it at some point. However, around eight million people in the UK have some form of anxiety disorder, which can go undiagnosed for long periods of time.
Symptoms of anxiety which can be mistaken for other health problems
While anxiety is largely a component of mental health, it can show physical symptoms that could confuse some sufferers.
Dr Touroni explained: “Any physical symptoms of anxiety – such as palpitations, difficulty breathing, nausea or chest or stomach pain – can be mistaken for physical health issues.
“These might include cardiac problems, respiratory issues or gastrointestinal conditions.
“But this can happen the other way around too: some physical health problems may present as anxiety. So, if you’re worried about any physical symptoms, it’s good to consult a GP.”
According to Mr Watts, chest pains are one of the common symptoms that can drive people to the hospital with a “suspected heart attack”.
However, he pointed out there have also some rather unexpected symptoms which therapists have encountered over the years.
He explained: “Others can be baffling and defy all medical diagnoses, which is when it is assumed that anxiety is at the root of it.
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“Chief among these is ‘conversion disorder’ which can result in temporary blindness or double vision, partial paralysis commonly of the legs, pseudo-seizures that can mimic epilepsy, loss of voice or problems with speech, memory issues that can mimic early signs of dementia and stroke symptoms.”
Anxiety symptoms can be particularly confusing, and sometimes scary, for those who have never suffered from it before.
Dr Touroni said: “The physical symptoms of a panic attack might feel so overwhelming that someone genuinely thinks they’re going to die.
“Especially if it’s something that hasn’t happened to them before, and they don’t recognise what it is.”
Mr Watts added often anxiety itself can be the reason suffers might think their symptoms are an indication of a worrying physical medical condition.
He explained: “The human brain is disposed to think and fear the worst, a trait inherited from our ancient ancestors. In those days, assuming something might kill you was more likely to lead to survival than assuming it would not.
“This is the exact reason why bad news makes more lasting impact than good news – the predisposition to focus on the bad news so that we might be able to find a way to avoid the outcome.”
What should I do if I think I might be suffering from anxiety?
Both experts urge people who are struggling with anxiety to seek help.
Dr Touroni said: “Remember, it’s OK to ask for help.”
In a similar vein, Mr Watts said anxiety is not “weird” but in fact a rather “normal” aspect of life.
However, for more severe anxiety disorders, any symptoms are worth a visit to the doctor.
Mr Watts explained: “If you know exactly why you’re anxious and understand it, then you can use any of the techniques above to relieve it.
“Otherwise, if you have a symptom you don’t understand, it’s always best to err on the side of caution, rather than assume that it’s ‘just’ anxiety.
“It’s easy to assume that a mild symptom is nothing more than anxiety but there’s no fool-proof way of finding out other than by medical investigation.
“This is even true if you just feel anxious but don’t know why, since that can often be a sign of physical illness that is as yet not producing other symptoms – it can be caught early.”
There are a variety of methods of help for anxiety available, including cognitive behavioural therapy and BrainWorking Recursive Therapy (BWRT).
Dr Touroni explained: “If your anxiety is spiralling out of control, therapy can be very helpful.
“In your session, a psychologist will help you figure out the root cause of your anxiety, identify any triggers and teach you coping skills and techniques to help diffuse and manage your worries.”