Causes of Anxiety

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Anxiety disorders are a common condition.

The most common cause of this condition is thought to be genetic. Thus the condition often runs in the families.

Stress factors tend to aggravate and precipitate the condition in some patients.

Triggers of Anxiety

The exact cause of anxiety disorders is unknown. However, research has pinpointed certain possible triggers.

Causes of anxiety disorders may be summarized as follows (1, 2, 3, 4) –

  • Genes – Inherited genes may determine the propensity to get anxiety disorders.
  • Sex – Women are more prone to anxiety disorders than men.
  • Anxiety disorders may also be triggered by a particularly stressful event.

This is seen in patients with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A traumatic experience (e.g. sexual or physical injury or harm in the past) may lead to fears and anxiety later in life.

  • Some drugs of abuse like amphetamines, LSD or ecstasy and even coffee may lead to attacks of anxiety.
  • A significant experience like loss of job, pregnancy or moving house may lead to anxiety precipitation.

Underlying pathophysiology (3, 4, 5)

Anxiety disorders are caused due to an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain. These are actually chemical messengers that carry information within the brain and are called neurotransmitters.

Two neurotransmitters that relate to anxiety disorders are serotonin and noradrenaline.

The misbalance of these neurotransmitters leads to certain physical and mood changes and manifestations.

The most common problem is low serotonin and high noradrenaline.

Disruption of the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) system in the brain is another underlying cause of anxiety disorders.

In Obsessive compulsive disorders another neurotransmitter dopamine might play a role.

Edited by April Cashin-Garbut, BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

What is Anxiety?
Anxiety Symptoms
Anxiety Diagnosis
Anxiety Treatments

Last Updated: Jun 13, 2012

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