Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is an
marked by chronic, exaggerated worrying and anxiety about everyday life. The worry is so severe that it interferes with a person's ability to live his or her life.
GAD may be caused by: An abnormal neurotransmitter systemGeneticsEnvironmental factorsDevelopmental factorsPsychological factors
GAD is nearly twice as common in women than in men. Other factors that may increase your chance of GAD include: Family members with an
disorderIncrease in stressExposure to physical or emotional traumaUnemployment, povertyDrug abuseMedical condition or disabilityHistory of self-harm as a teenager, with or without suicidal intent
Symptoms of GAD usually develop slowly. People with GAD often have both psychological and physical symptoms of anxiety.
Psychological symptoms include: Excessive ongoing worrying and tensionFeeling tense or edgyIrritability, overly stressedDifficulty concentrating, forgetfulness
Physical symptoms may include: Muscle tensionLightheadednessTremblingDifficulty sleepingRestlessnessShortness of breathSweatingHeart palpitationsChest painChoking sensationAbdominal discomfortDiarrheaNauseaNumbness or tingling
Symptoms of Anxiety
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People with GAD often have other anxiety disorders,
substance use disorders.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical and psychiatric exam will be done. Conditions with similar symptoms will be evaluated. Blood and urine tests may be done.
You will be asked about any medications that you are taking, including over-the-counter products, herbs, and supplements. Some medications can cause side effects similar to the symptoms of GAD. You will also be asked about any other substances that you may be using such as nicotine, caffeine, illegal drugs, prescription medications, and alcohol.
To make a diagnosis of GAD, symptoms must: Be present more days than notBe present for at least 6 monthsInterfere with your life such as causing you to miss work or school
You may be referred to a psychotherapist for further evaluation.
If you have a mild form of GAD, your doctor will probably first have you try
to learn to manage anxious thoughts.
Lifestyle changes may include: Regular exerciseGetting enough sleep every night
Avoiding anxiety triggers, such as tobacco, caffeine, and drugsDrinking alcohol in moderationAwareness of stressful situations and learning how to manage it
Relaxation techniques may be helpful in reducing anxiety. These may include: Deep breathing and meditationProgressive muscle relaxationMassage therapyEngage in pleasurable activitiesYoga
Have a strong support system of family and friendsConsider family therapy to help with understanding and coping skillsJoin a support group
(CBT), your therapist will work with you to change your patterns of thinking. This will allow you to notice how you react to situations that cause anxiety. You will then learn to change your thinking so you can react differently. This can decrease the symptoms of anxiety.
Your therapist will teach you relaxation techniques, including deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and visualization. Learning ways to relax can help you gain control over anxiety. Instead of reacting with worry and tension, you can learn to remain calm. Your therapist may also slowly expose you to the situations that cause worry and tension. This can allow you to reduce your anxiety in a safe environment.
works by attaching sensors to the body. A therapist helps you understand your body’s signals so you can use them to reduce your anxiety.
Medication can be prescribed for symptoms that are severe and make it difficult to function. Medications can help relieve symptoms so you can concentrate on getting better. It is important to note that many medications cannot be stopped quickly but need to be tapered off. Check with your doctor before discontinuing any medication.
Medications may include: Antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)BuspironeBenzodiazepines
Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of these medications. Some types may cause dependence.
There are no current guidelines to prevent GAD.
Antidepressant use in children, adolescents, and adults. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at:
Updated December 23, 2014. Accessed January 26, 2016.
Anxiety disorders. Mental Health America website. Available at:
Accessed January 26, 2016.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at:
http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad/index.shtml. Accessed January 26, 2016.
Gliatto MF. Generalized anxiety disorder. Am Fam Physician. 2000;62(7):1591-1600.
Last reviewed December 2015 by Adrian Preda, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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