Medical Causes of Anxiety Symptoms: Health Disorders and the Fight or Flight Response

Anxiety symptoms occur due to the “fight of flight response” being triggered in the body. This anxiety mechanism, results in the release of adrenaline from the adrenal glands, so that the body can respond to an important or threatening issue that has arisen. In the case of medical conditions, the body is in some cases attempting to compensate for an abnormal change in hormone levels.

The Endocrine System

The “endocrine glands” are those in the body that supply needed hormones. These include sex hormones, adrenal hormones, thyroid hormones, the glucose regulating hormones and the master brain-gland hormones. Following is a list of some of those hormones.

  • insulin – from the pancreas
  • T4 and T3 – from the thyroid gland
  • testosterone and estrogen – from precursor hormones (following a conversion process)
  • adrenaline, cortisol, pregnenolone and DHEA – from the adrenal glands
  • TSH, CRH and ACTH – from the pituitary and hypothalamus glands

The endocrine system works in a loop, meaning the hormones are all interconnected so that they work in sync with each other, to help keep them in balance within the body. If one hormone becomes abnormally low, this can result in another hormone rising to abnormally high levels, which in some cases can result in chronic anxiety symptoms.

Thyroid Imbalance

When the body becomes low on either or both of the major thyroid hormones (T4 and T3), the thyroid-regulating “pituitary gland” in the brain sends more TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) to the thyroid gland to prompt it to increase its production of hormones. This is a description of “hypothyroidism”, meaning an under-active gland.

The opposite condition is called “hyperthyroidism” (overactive) and this is caused in many cases by too much TSH being sent to the thyroid gland. When thyroid hormone levels reach higher than normal values, hyperthyroid symptoms will result from a sped-up bodily metabolism. The resulting symptoms for this and other medical conditions that include anxiety as part of the symptom-complex may include the following.

  • Increased breathing (hyperventilation)
  • Increased heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Trembling (tremors)
  • Sudden fear (panic)
  • Increased body excretions (sweating, frequent urination and diarrhea)

Hypoglycemia

When sugar enters the body via the diet, the pancreas sends out the hormone “insulin” to regulate the energy produced for the body by this very necessary fuel also called “glucose”. In blood-glucose imbalance conditions, such as diabetes and reactive-hypoglycemia, the levels will drop to abnormally low levels due to insulin resistance or due to a rapid insulin reaction.

The adrenal glands will then attempt to compensate for the drop in glucose by sending out more of the hormone – adrenaline. It does this to prompt the body to produce more insulin and to replace low energy levels in the body due to low glucose levels. As this occurs, anxiety and symptoms of nervousness can result.

Mitral Valve Prolapse

This common heart murmur, abbreviated “MVP” does not cause symptoms in many people who have it, while others experience anxiety and panic symptoms frequently with the condition. Medical research studies of MVP have found that the “mitral leaflets” that support this heart valve, may become stretched-out or thickened over time and this causes the valve not to close properly with heart beats, resulting in a “click murmur” (sound heard with a stethoscope).

The heart has many nerve impulses triggered within it that regulate the speed of heart function by interacting with the adrenal glands. With MVP, it is believed that these nerve impulses become irregular so that false signals indicating the need for increased heart rate reach the adrenal glands, causing excessive release of hormone (adrenaline surges).

This may be why panic attacks and anxiety symptoms are experienced commonly by MVP patients. One medical term for nervous system imbalance is “dysautonomia” and some medical sources refer to the condition when it is combined with nervous system imbalance as “MVP-Dysautonomia”.

There are other medical conditions, in addition to the preceding three that have been described, that also cause chronic and/or sudden onset anxiety symptoms. A person, who experiences severe anxiety or panic, should see a licensed medical practitioner for definitive diagnoses of anxiety disorder or medically induced anxiety.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *