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Seizures, Speech Problems and Sleep Disorders: How Anxiety Affects Neurology

written by: Stephanie Torreno • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 5/20/2011

Anxiety constitutes the most common mental health problem in the United States. Not only does it cause physical and psychological symptoms, but it can lead to persistent neurological conditions such as sleep and speech disorders.

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    Neurological Symptoms Caused by Anxiety

    Modern life presents many circumstances that can cause anxiety. Dealing with traffic, computer problems, and interpersonal difficulties are just a few of the experiences that provoke anxious feelings. These feelings, though, usually present mild uneasiness and are only of temporary duration. Persistent anxiety, on the other hand, can last months and years and cause additional symptoms. The neurological symptoms caused by anxiety include:

    • Headache
    • Dizziness
    • Hyperventilation
    • Fatigue
    • Concentration and memory problems
    • Sweating
    • Tingling and numbness
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    Neurological Disorders Caused by Anxiety

    Insomnia is a perfect example of one of the neurological disorders caused by anxiety. People who are anxious have trouble falling or staying asleep, or they wake up early. In fact, individuals who suffer from primary insomnia, or insomnia not due to another medical condition, report high levels of emotional distress and anxiety. Insomniacs often compound their anxiety by worrying about their inability to sleep.

    Psychogenic nonepileptic seizures are also thought to be the result of extreme anxiety. These seizures are brief episodes that temporarily change behavior. Nonepileptic seizures resemble epileptic seizures and the internal sensations felt by the individual are similar. The difference between these two seizures is usually difficult to recognize, even by trained medical professionals. Nonepileptic episodes must be properly diagnosed, however, to rule out other types of seizures. Unlike epileptic seizures, nonepileptic seizures do not stem from abnormal electrical changes in the brain. The type of anxiety that causes them depends on individual circumstances. Recent or past sexual or physical abuse, particularly in childhood, or traumatic events such as divorce or death of a loved one, can trigger nonepileptic seizures.

    Severe anxiety can also create speech difficulties as well. Although research has not confirmed that stuttering and stammering are caused by anxiety, these speech disorders have been shown to be exacerbated by it. Individuals who stutter or stammer tend to have higher levels of anxiety, although these levels may be explained by difficulties communicating and being understood.

    One speech disorder that has been directly associated with anxiety is Selective Mutism, or SM. It usually occurs in childhood and is characterized by a child's inability to speak in public places, such as school, despite the ability to speak at home. This disorder, in fact, may be a severe form of social phobia since SM shares avoidance behavior. Children with SM are usually given these dual diagnoses for their psychological inability, not their reluctance to speak.

    Anxiety does not only cause bothersome symptoms, but can lead to more serious neurological problems. People experiencing anxiety can learn to deal with it by making lifestyle changes, including getting physical exercise, practicing relaxation techniques, and avoiding alcohol and caffeine - all of which can help control stressful symptoms. If anxiety persists or worsens, professional intervention in the forms of psychotherapy and possibly medication may be necessary to avoid further symptoms and disorders.

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    References

    American Sleep Association. “Insomnia." www.sleepassociation.org/index.php?p=insomnia1

    Epilepsy Foundation. “Nonepileptic seizures." www.epilepsyfoundation.org/answerplace/Medical/seizures/types/nonepileptic/weinonepilepsy.cfm

    Selective Mutism Group. “What is Selective Mutism (SM)?" www.selectivemutism.org/faq/faqs/what-is-selective-mutism-sm



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