Purpose of review: This article provides a synopsis of the current understanding of the pathophysiology of anxiety disorders, the biological and environmental risk factors that contribute to their development and maintenance, a review of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) diagnostic criteria, and a practical approach to the treatment of anxiety disorders in adults.
Recent findings: Despite the ubiquity of anxiety, the evidence is that most individuals with an anxiety disorder are not identified and do not receive guideline-level care. In part, this may be because of the manifold clinical presentations of anxiety disorders and clinicians' lack of confidence in accurately diagnosing and treating these conditions, especially in nonpsychiatric settings. Anxiety disorders represent the complex interplay between biological, psychological, temperamental, and environmental factors. Converging lines of evidence point to dysfunction in regulating activity in the "threat circuit" in the brain as a putative common pathophysiology underlying anxiety disorders. Evidence-based treatments for anxiety disorders, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and antidepressant medications, have been shown to regulate activity in this circuit, which consists of reciprocal connections between the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, insula, and amygdala.
Summary: Anxiety disorders are the most common class of emotional disorders and a leading cause of disability worldwide. A variety of effective treatment strategies are available, which may exert their therapeutic benefits from top-down or bottom-up modulation of the dysfunctional brain activity associated with anxiety disorders.