Many people wonder if severe anxiety can be severe enough to require hospitalization. The answer is yes; in extreme cases, anxiety can escalate to a level that needs immediate medical attention.

A constant state of panic, where your heart races uncontrollably, your thoughts spiral, and you feel disconnected from reality, can be distressing and might land you in the emergency room of a hospital.

What causes severe anxiety?

Severe anxiety doesn’t just appear out of nowhere; it often has complex roots ranging from genetic factors to everyday stressors. 

Genetic predisposition

Research has shown that anxiety disorders can be passed genetically. If anxiety or panic disorder is common in your family, there’s a chance you might inherit this trait. Just like eye color or height, the tendency to experience anxiety can be passed down through generations. This genetic link means that some people are naturally more prone to anxiety disorders from birth.

Brain chemistry

Your brain has special chemicals called neurotransmitters that help control your mood and reactions to stress. When these chemicals are out of balance, your brain might react more intensely to stress, leading to heightened anxiety. 

Life events

Significant or traumatic events such as losing a job, getting divorced, or experiencing the death of a close one can be profound triggers for anxiety. These events can create feelings of uncertainty and fear, which may escalate into severe anxiety. 

Medical factors

Health issues such as thyroid problems, heart disease, or diabetes can also influence your anxiety levels. Sometimes, the physical symptoms of these conditions (like rapid heartbeat or sweating) can mimic or trigger anxiety attacks, making it hard to determine what’s caused by anxiety and what’s caused by your physical health.

Substance use

Using substances can significantly affect your anxiety. These substances might initially seem like they reduce stress, but they can cause a rebound effect—your anxiety might spike once the initial calming effect wears off. For example, the anxiety felt after a night of drinking can be more intense, mimicking withdrawal symptoms.

Can you go to the ER for anxiety?

Yes, you can go to the ER for anxiety if you are experiencing severe symptoms that feel unmanageable or overwhelming. 

When to visit the ER for anxiety

It’s appropriate to visit the emergency room if you experience any of the following severe symptoms:

  • Intense panic attacks: These may mimic heart attack symptoms, such as chest pain, difficulty breathing, extreme dizziness, or an overwhelming sense of doom.
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors: Immediate intervention is necessary to ensure safety if you’re experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
  • Severe disorientation or confusion: If you find yourself extremely confused or disoriented, impeding your ability to function safely.
  • Inability to calm down: This includes situations where your usual home coping strategies fail, especially if you fear for your safety or the safety of others.

What to expect in the ER

  • Assessment: Medical staff will assess your physical health to rule out any conditions that could be causing or worsening your anxiety, such as heart issues or thyroid problems.
  • Immediate care: You’ll receive immediate care to calm your acute symptoms. This may include medication to help ease your anxiety or panic symptoms.
  • Referrals: After stabilizing your condition, the ER staff may refer you to mental health professionals for follow-up care or recommend entering a specific treatment program that better suits your needs.

Considerations before visiting the hospital 

Visiting the ER should be a decision based on your symptoms’ severity and ability to manage them safely. Because emergency rooms are designed to handle acute physical health crises, the ideal course of action for managing chronic anxiety involves consulting with a mental health professional.

However, the ER can provide immediate intervention when severe symptoms present a crisis.

If you’re experiencing persistent anxiety but are not in immediate danger, reaching out to your primary care provider or a mental health specialist is advisable for long-term care and support.

Do you have heart disease and panic attacks? 

If you have heart disease and experience panic attacks, it’s crucial to understand when these symptoms might warrant hospitalization, especially since they can overlap with signs of a heart condition.

Identify emergency symptoms

  • Severe chest pain: If you experience intense chest pain that doesn’t resolve or is different from what you typically feel during a panic attack, it could be a sign of a cardiac event rather than just anxiety.
  • Unusual symptoms: Symptoms that aren’t typical for your panic attacks, such as extreme shortness of breath, fainting, or excessive sweating, should be taken seriously as they could indicate a heart problem.
  • Intensifying symptoms: If your usual panic attack symptoms become more frequent or severe, it’s important to consider that your heart disease might be worsening or impacting your anxiety.

When to go to the hospital for anxiety

It’s appropriate to visit the hospital for anxiety when you aren’t sure what’s causing the severity of your symptoms. Other reasons include:

Severe panic attacks

If panic attacks become so intense that they cause chest pain, extreme difficulty breathing, or a feeling of losing control, it might be time to visit the hospital. These symptoms can be alarming and may feel similar to a heart attack, making it essential to get immediate medical attention to ensure your safety.

Suicidal thoughts or behaviors

When anxiety leads to persistent thoughts of harming oneself or suicide, immediate intervention is necessary. Hospitals can provide a safe environment and immediate psychiatric support to help manage these severe symptoms and ensure the person’s safety.

Inability to function

If your anxiety reaches a point where you can’t perform daily tasks, communicate effectively, or take care of yourself, this indicates a need for professional help. Hospitalization can provide the structured support and treatment needed to regain stability.

Overwhelming physical symptoms

Sometimes, anxiety manifests in intense physical symptoms—like prolonged dizziness, rapid heart rate, or uncontrollable shaking—that don’t respond to usual management strategies. These severe symptoms can disrupt daily life and pose health risks, making hospital evaluation and treatment advisable.

Medication-related issues

If you’re on medication for anxiety and experience severe side effects or if your medication suddenly stops working, a hospital can adjust or change your medication safely under medical supervision. This is important as improper medication management can exacerbate anxiety symptoms or lead to new health issues.

Inpatient treatment for anxiety

Inpatient treatment for anxiety provides a tailored and supportive environment for individuals facing severe symptoms. This type of care involves a structured setting, 24/7 medical support, intensive therapy sessions, comprehensive medication management, and holistic approaches to support overall well-being.

While inpatient treatment offers extensive support, our Online Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is also a valuable resource for managing anxiety.

It provides flexibility and personalized care without the need for a hospital stay. For more detailed information on how our IOP can help you or a loved one manage anxiety symptoms, request a free consultation with one of our specialists. We’ll happily speak with you and support you however we can.

We provide Treatment for Anxiety across Arizona

Our anxiety treatment services are available across Arizona. You can find us in the following cities: