March 01, 2004
Millions of Americans suffer from anxiety disorders. Many with panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and/or generalized anxiety disorder present initially to their primary care clinician. Effective treatment is possible in a busy primary care setting; therapy involves patient education and pharmacotherapy. Once other potential causes of symptoms of an anxiety disorder have been ruled out, the first step is to reassure the patient that he or she has a psychological condition-a very common one-and that symptoms are not the result of an undiagnosed disease or "going crazy" or "losing control." Educate and inform patients that complete clinical remission is achievable, often with medication alone. Begin treatment on day 1 with a long-acting benzodiazepine-such as alprazolam XR or clonazepam-or with the anxiolytic agent buspirone; at the same time, start a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). The anxiolytic agent allays acute somatic symptoms until the full effects of the SSRI are manifest (often 4 to 6 weeks). The anxiolytic can then be gradually tapered. Referral to a psychiatrist for psychotherapy may be indicated when a patient refuses or cannot tolerate drug therapy, or when response to therapy is inadequate.