Anxiety disorders are chronic conditions that follow a relapsing/remitting course.1 The evidence to support this view comes primarily from cross-sectional and retrospective assessments of duration of illness and, in part, from prospective studies. The waxing and waning nature of panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), for example, has been clearly demonstrated. Much less information is available about the course of illness of social phobia. However, both community studies and patient samples suggest an age of onset of social phobia in mid to late teens with a chronicity that is equal to or greater than that of panic disorder.2 Nevertheless, this recognition has not reshaped our basic treatment approach, which focuses almost entirely on the acute control of symptoms and only secondarily acknowledges relapse prevention.
In addition, the natural history of anxiety disorders is frequently complicated by Axis I and Axis II comorbidity that seems to be significantly higher among patients who seek treatment than in persons in the community who are not in treatment.1 In fact, it has been estimated that 73% of patients with panic disorder had other comorbid conditions that ranged from major depression to substance abuse until the onset of the Axis II disorders, mostly cluster C type 1 to 2. It is, therefore, evident that any long-term anxiolytic treatment strategy must take account of these high rates of comorbidity that appear to develop during the longitudinal phase of the anxiety disorder.
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