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Anxiety and Stress Disorders

Surgery and Anxiety Issues

06/26/2007

Question:

I`m an Ayurvedic therapist, and a friend wants me to see her father, who is having anxiety attacks and moderate to severe tremors, post-surgery/anaesthesia. The symptoms she describes exactly match what my grandmother went through after surgery/anaesthesia a few years ago: complete personality change from an articulate, independent, confident woman to a whimpering, paranoid, childlike, helpless creature who was afraid to go to sleep alone at night and would wake up crying out for help. I`d be grateful for any further information you might be able to provide, especially about whether patients suffering from paranoia/anxiety attacks for an extended period ever recover (my grandmother died still experiencing these symptoms, long after her surgery). Thank you for your help.

Answer:

I am not aware of any significant links between anesthesia and surgery and anxiety disorders.  Perhaps, a significant surgical experience could lead to some post traumatic stress disorder, but I am not aware of any medical studies correlating a surgical experience with an anxiety disorder.  However, anxiety disorders can occur at any age, and often a significant life change (like a major medical procedure) can exacerbate a mild or low-level disorder into a more significant or severe problem.

Anxiety disorders are some of the most treatable mental illnesses, but therapy usually takes months (occ. years, for those with chronic disease) and disease may be recurrent.  The best medical evidence for successful treatments are therapy with cognitive behavioral therapy, medications with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or a combination of both.  The medical literature is very sparse for the effectiveness of complementary therapies such as ayervedic -- most reported studies are small and not well performed.

However, people with anxiety disorders who never receive effective treatment are much less likely to recover fully, and often find that their lives begin to be ruled by their illness.

Good luck.

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Response by:

Nancy   Elder, MD Nancy Elder, MD
Associate Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati