More than 11% of adult Americans deal with regular worry, nervousness, or anxiety, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But can anxiety cause pain as well?
According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADDA), the answer is yes. Some individuals who deal with anxiety, particularly generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), experience pain as a common symptom.
Does anxiety cause physical pain?
Anxiety can cause physical pain, though not all people who have anxiety will experience pain. However, for those who have chronic pain diseases such as arthritis or fibromyalgia, a co-occurring anxiety disorder may even make the pain worse.
Common Symptoms of Anxiety
Symptoms of anxiety are diverse and may involve a combination of emotions, thoughts, physiological changes, and physical pain.
Emotional Symptoms of Anxiety
The feelings or thoughts associated with anxiety may include:
- Feelings of dread
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling jumpy or tense
- Feeling fearful
- Feeling like you’re going to die
- Excessive worrying
- Inability to relax
- Racing thoughts
Physical Symptoms of Anxiety
Physical symptoms of anxiety are diverse and affect people in different ways. Some, but not all, of the physical and/or physiological symptoms of anxiety, include:
- Racing heart
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea - Diarrhea
- Increased blood pressure
- Frequent urination
- Sweating - Insomnia
- Pain (headache, muscle tension, back pain, muscle spasm)
What can anxiety do to your body?
Anxiety can impact many systems in your body, as stress hormones released by your body in response to anxiety can be very damaging. If you’re experiencing ongoing anxiety, seek treatment from a mental health care provider as soon as possible.
Impact of Anxiety on Cardiovascular System
An anxiety disorder can lead to angina (chest pain), a rapid heart rate, and/or heart palpitations. Prolonged anxiety may also contribute to heart disease, risk of heart attack, and increased blood pressure.
Impact of Anxiety on Digestive System
Anxiety can cause stomach aches, diarrhea, nausea, and stomach cramping. It may also call a loss of appetite, difficulty swallowing, or dry mouth.
Impact of Anxiety on Central Nervous System
Untreated anxiety may lead to headaches, dizziness, and/or depression. This is thought to be caused by the release of stress hormones. Long-term anxiety may also be responsible for forgetfulness, an inability to concentrate, or short-term memory loss.
Impact of Anxiety on Respiratory System
Ongoing anxiety or an acute panic attack can lead to shortness of breath and rapid breathing. In some cases, anxiety may lead to hyperventilation.
Impact of Anxiety on Musculoskeletal System
Anxiety can lead to tense muscles, which don’t relax when you’re in a state of stress. This can lead to chronic muscle aches, muscle spasms, and joint pain.
Impact of Anxiety on Immune System
Stress and anxiety can lead to inflammation, insomnia, and a weakened immune system. It is thought that it is difficult for the immune system to function properly when the body is in frequent “fight-or-flight” mode.
What does anxiety pain feel like?
Pain resulting from anxiety may feel different for each individual. For some, anxiety may lead to tension headaches or back pain. For others, anxiety pain may feel like a stomach bug or cause chest pain. You should report any unusual physical symptoms to your health care provider as soon as possible.
Medications That Treat Anxiety
The first-line treatment for anxiety is typically a form of psychotherapy known as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). In some cases, a mental health care provider may also recommend medication to help treat anxiety. When medication is prescribed it is frequently a medication known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). SSRIs are also used to treat depression.
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
An SSRI may be prescribed in conjunction with psychotherapy to treat anxiety disorders. Common SSRIs include:
- Citalopram (Generic Celexa)
- Escitalopram (Generic Lexapro)
- Fluoxetine (Generic Prozac)
- Paroxetine (Generic Paxil)
- Sertraline (Generic Zoloft)
Other medications may also be prescribed based on your diagnosis.
Talk to Your Health Care Provider
If you’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety, or pain with no known cause, it is time to schedule an appointment with your health care provider. Pain may be a sign of an undiagnosed anxiety disorder.
Likewise, feelings of excessive worry or fear need to be treated, to prevent a worsening mental health condition. Your mental health care professional will help you to learn various self-help mechanisms to reduce symptoms of anxiety, to protect not only your mental health but your physical health as well.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1–800–273–8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. You may also reach out to the Samaritans: Call or text (877) 870-HOPE (4673).
Jen Hadley is a freelance writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, who writes extensively about the medical, legal, health care, and consumer products industries. Jen is a regular contributor to RxSaver.
Dr. Amy Kearney
Amy Kearney earned her Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts, and Doctoral degrees in Psychology from Azusa Pacific University in the Los Angeles area. She is a licensed clinical psychologist and has worked for one of the nation’s largest HMOs since 2002. She currently specializes in pain management and gets great joy from helping individuals maximize their quality of life and functioning while living with chronic conditions.
The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.
If you are in crisis or you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.
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