Anxiety Disorders Common But Often Undiagnosed

– Posted in: Anxiety

A study done at the Indiana University School of Medicine and the Regenstrief Institute, Inc. states that twenty percent of patients seen by primary care physicians have at least one Anxiety Disorder. Dr. Kurt Kroenke, the lead researcher, is an internationally recognized internist who studies physical symptoms, especially pain, and their links to mental disorders including Anxiety and Depression. He states:


Anxiety often manifests as a physical symptom like pain, fatigue, or inability to sleep, so it is not surprising that one out of five patients who come to a doctor’s office with a physical complaint have anxiety.


The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that between ten and twenty percent of the American people age eighteen and older suffer from some sort of Anxiety Disorder, so the twenty percent figure stated in the study rings true. 


The study found that Anxiety Disorders among patients was as prevalent as Depression. The researchers were surprised that the prevalence of Anxiety Disorder was much more common than they thought it might be among patients who were visiting a physician for a physical problem or illness. Compared to people without mental illness, people with Anxiety have a worse functional status, more disability days, and more physician visits.


The point of the study led by Dr. Kroenke is to outline the effectiveness of a new screening tool, the GAD-7, that can help busy primary care physicians to detect patients with Anxiety Disorders and other mental disorders. It is a seven-question self-administered questionnaire that identifies patients with undiagnosed Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Social Anxiety Disorder. 


Bringing this information to the attention of the primary care physician, who is usually focused on the patient’s physical complaints, is very important. Unless prompted by the patient’s complaints or test results, the physician would be unlikely to assess the patient’s mental state. Kroenke states:


Doctors like to quantify things. We can objectively measure blood pressure, blood sugar or cholesterol, but symptoms of anxiety can be missed in a busy primary care practice. The seven-question GAD-7 and remarkably even the two-question “ultra brief” version gives the physician a tool to quantify the patient’s symptoms – sort of a lab test for anxiety.


Twenty percent — one in five — of the American population is 61 million people with Anxiety Disorders! I have no figures for how many of these are undiagnosed, but I would not be surprised if it exceeded fifty percent. That’s a lot of pain and suffering, disrupted families and broken lives, whatever the percentages are. Any kind of screening tool that helps people to overcome the ravages of Anxiety Disorder is more than welcome.


Ask your primary care physician if they use the GAD-7 screening tool or a similar test to help diagnose mental illnesses. I’ll bet they don’t. I, personally, have never had any primary care physician who did. 


What about you?



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For further reading:

Anxiety Disorders Surprisingly Common Yet Often Untreated: New Screening Tools Make It Easier for Physicians To Diagnose,” news release from the University of Indiana.

Anxiety Disorders Surprisingly Common Yet Often Untreated,” a report of the Indiana University study by Science Daily. 

The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America,” A listing from the NIMH of mental disorder prevalences in the United States.


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