Diseases That Cause Anxiety

Anxiety is a ubiquitous experience. When severe, it can indicate a psychiatric problem. Various medical conditions can cause anxiety. Before concluding that anxiety stems from psychological problems, a physician should assess the patient to rule out the presence of these conditions. Anxiety is rarely the sole symptom of a severe medical condition, but it can be one of its cardinal manifestations.

A woman with anxiety or depression is sitting at the edge of her bed. Credit: monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images

Cardiac Disease

Anxiety can be one of the symptoms of a heart attack. Panic attacks and heart attacks can both present with similar symptoms: anxiety, chest pain, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate and sweating. Evaluation in the emergency room is necessary to differentiate between the two. Disturbances in the heart rate rhythm can cause bouts of rapid heart rate accompanied by anxiety. As explained in "Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine," PSVT, or paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia, is one such rhythm disturbance. Evaluation includes a Holter monitor, which is a 24-hour electrocardiogram attached to the patient as he goes about his regular activities. The purpose is to catch a burst of abnormal rhythm that can be missed on a routine ECG.

Lung Disease

Diseases of the lungs and airways, in which the patient can't get enough oxygen, can present with severe anxiety. Asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease both cause severe anxiety as the patient struggles to get enough oxygen through airways that are not responding. Pulmonary embolism is a life-threatening condition in which a blood clot travels to the lungs and limits their ability to exchange air. Two prominent symptoms are a rapid heart rate and anxiety.


An excess of thyroid hormone causes an increased metabolic rate, and can lead to such symptoms as a rapid heart rate, weight loss and anxiety. Initial diagnosis, in addition to a medical history and physical exam, is a blood test checking the level of thyroid hormone. One cause of hyperthyroidism is Graves disease. Apart from symptoms of excess thyroid hormone, patients have bulging eyes, known as proptosis, and their eyelids are retracted, making them appear as though they're always staring.


Pheochromocytoma is a tumor that produces adrenaline independently of the body's need for it. In addition to anxiety, which usually presents as panic attacks, it can cause palpitations, headaches, sweating and high blood pressure. The anxiety attack is often accompanied by pale skin. These tumors are difficult to diagnose and require measurement of blood levels of adrenaline and related hormones, as well as imaging, such as computerized tomography and magnetic resonance imaging.


Carcinoid tumors arise from special hormone-secreting cells in the gastrointestinal tract. They secrete a wide range of hormones, including serotonin. Excess serotonin in the blood can cause carcinoid syndrome, which includes symptoms of anxiety, rapid heart rate, flushing and diarrhea. Diagnosis relies on measurement of serotonin and its metabolites in the blood.

Load Comments

Copyright © 2019 Leaf Group Ltd. Use of this web site constitutes acceptance of the LIVESTRONG.COM Terms of Use , Privacy Policy and Copyright Policy . The material appearing on LIVESTRONG.COM is for educational use only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. LIVESTRONG is a registered trademark of the LIVESTRONG Foundation. The LIVESTRONG Foundation and LIVESTRONG.COM do not endorse any of the products or services that are advertised on the web site. Moreover, we do not select every advertiser or advertisement that appears on the web site-many of the advertisements are served by third party advertising companies.