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The causes of anxiety disorders aren't fully understood. Life experiences such as traumatic events appear to trigger anxiety disorders in people who are already prone to anxiety. Inherited traits also can be a factor.

Medical causes

For some people, anxiety may be linked to an underlying health issue. In some cases, anxiety signs and symptoms are the first indicators of a medical illness. If your doctor suspects your anxiety may have a medical cause, he or she may order tests to look for signs of a problem.

Examples of medical problems that can be linked to anxiety include:

  • Heart disease

  • Diabetes

  • Thyroid problems, such as hyperthyroidism

  • Respiratory disorders, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma

  • Drug abuse or withdrawal

  • Withdrawal from alcohol, anti-anxiety medications (benzodiazepines) or other medications

  • Chronic pain or irritable bowel syndrome

  • Rare tumors that produce certain "fight-or-flight" hormones

Sometimes anxiety can be a side effect of certain medications.

It's possible that your anxiety may be due to an underlying medical condition if:

  • You don't have any blood relatives (such as a parent or sibling) with an anxiety disorder

  • You didn't have an anxiety disorder as a child

  • You don't avoid certain things or situations because of anxiety

  • You have a sudden occurrence of anxiety that seems unrelated to life events and you didn't have a previous history of anxiety

Risk factors

These factors may increase your risk of developing an anxiety disorder:

  • Trauma. Children who endured abuse or trauma or witnessed traumatic events are at higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder at some point in life. Adults who experience a traumatic event also can develop anxiety disorders.

  • Stress due to an illness. Having a health condition or serious illness can cause significant worry about issues such as your treatment and your future.

  • Stress buildup. A big event or a buildup of smaller stressful life situations may trigger excessive anxiety — for example, a death in the family, work stress or ongoing worry about finances.

  • Personality. People with certain personality types are more prone to anxiety disorders than others are.

  • Other mental health disorders. People with other mental health disorders, such as depression, often also have an anxiety disorder. 

  • Having blood relatives with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can run in families.

  • Drugs or alcohol. Drug or alcohol use or abuse or withdrawal can cause or worsen anxiety.


Having an anxiety disorder does more than make you worry. It can also lead to, or worsen, other mental and physical conditions, such as:

  • Depression (which often occurs with an anxiety disorder) or other mental health disorders

  • Substance abuse

  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)

  • Digestive or bowel problems

  • Headaches and chronic pain

  • Social isolation

  • Problems functioning at school or work

  • Poor quality of life

  • Suicide

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