Health Concerns - Irritability / Anxiety
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Irritability and Anxiety

The menopause transition can be a time of significant irritability and anxiety. Night sweats that lead to disrupted sleep patterns can be a main cause of daytime irritability and a ‘short fuse’. Fortunately, the majority of women will only notice temporary changes related to irritability and anxiety. Other individuals will notice profound anxiety that is may not be related to hormonal changes or the menopause transition and is termed an anxiety disorder.

What is an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric illnesses affecting both children and adults. Anxiety disorders may develop from a number of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events. An estimated 19 million adult Americans suffer from anxiety disorders. Fortunately, anxiety disorders are highly treatable. Unfortunately, only about one-third of those suffering from an anxiety disorder receive treatment.
Anxiety disorders are broken down into six categories:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
  • Panic Disorder.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia).
  • Specific phobias.

The remainder of this monograph will discuss GAD. For information about the other anxiety disorders, please refer to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) at:

See also: Depression

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
In the United States, GAD affects approximately 8 million adults every year, with women outnumbering men two to one. The disorder comes on gradually and can begin across the life cycle, though the risk is highest between childhood and middle age.

Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive, unrealistic worry that lasts six months or more; the anxiety may focus on issues such as health, money, or career. In addition to chronic worry, GAD symptoms include trembling, muscular aches, insomnia, abdominal upsets, dizziness, and irritability.

GAD is much more than the normal anxiety people experience day to day. It can lead to exaggerated tension and worry, even though there is little or nothing to provoke it. People with GAD can't seem to shake their concerns, even though they usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants. Their worries are accompanied by physical symptoms, especially fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, muscle aches, difficulty swallowing, trembling, twitching, irritability, sweating, and hot flashes. People with GAD may feel lightheaded or out of breath. They also may feel nauseated or have to go to the bathroom frequently.

Individuals with GAD seem unable to relax, and they may startle more easily than other people. They tend to have difficulty concentrating, too. Often, they have trouble falling or staying asleep.

How is GAD treated?

If you, or someone you know, has symptoms of GAD, a visit to your family physician is usually the best place to start.

A physician can help determine whether the symptoms are due to an anxiety disorder, some other medical condition, or both. Some people find comfort just by learning GAD is a medical condition. Learning more about your condition is often a good first step toward feeling better. Frequently, the next step in getting treatment for an anxiety disorder is referral to a mental health professional.

Many people with GAD derive benefit from joining a self-help group and sharing their problems with others. Talking with trusted friends or a trusted member of the clergy can also be very helpful, although not a substitute for mental health care. Participating in an Internet chat room may also be of value in sharing concerns and decreasing a sense of isolation, but any advice received should be viewed with caution.

Medical treatments have been largely developed through research conducted by NIMH and other research institutions. A number of medications that were originally approved for treating depression have been found to be effective for anxiety disorders as well. Some of the newest of these antidepressants are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). There are other anti-anxiety medications, including groups of drugs called benzodiazepines and beta-blockers. If one medication is not effective, others can be tried.

Two clinically-proven effective forms of psychotherapy used to treat anxiety disorders are behavioral therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Behavioral therapy focuses on changing specific actions and uses several techniques to stop unwanted behaviors. Cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches patients to understand and change their thinking patterns so they can react differently to the situations that cause them anxiety.

For More Information
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Office of Communications and Public Liaison
6001 Executive Blvd., Room 8184, MSC 9663
Bethesda, MD 20892-9663
General inquiries: (301) 443-4513
TTY: (301) 443-8431
Web site:

The information provided by MenopauseRx, Inc. is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health-care provider. Please consult your health-care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.