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Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

What is generalized anxiety disorder?

If you tend to worry a lot, even when there’s no reason, you may have generalized anxiety disorder or GAD. It may be something you are so used to, you may think it’s just “how you are.” Common worries include your health, money, family, or work. While everyone worries about these things once in awhile, if you always expect the worst, it can get in the way of living a normal life.  

If you have GAD, you may also have another mental health condition such as depression.       

What causes GAD?

GAD can develop when you can’t cope well with your internal stress. It also runs in families, but it’s not understood why some people get it and others don’t. Researchers have shown that the areas of the brain that control fear and anxiety are involved.

The symptoms of GAD can happen as a side effect of a medicine or substance abuse. It can also be related to medical conditions, such as hyperthyroidism, that increase hormones. This can make the body response more excitable. GAD can be triggered by family or environmental stress. Chronic illness and disease can also trigger GAD.

What are the symptoms of GAD?

If you have GAD, you likely know that your anxiety is more intense than the situation calls for, but still you can’t stop these unfounded concerns. While each person may experience symptoms differently, the following are the most common symptoms:

  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Trembling
  • Twitching
  • Tense muscles
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Sweating
  • Hot flashes
  • Lightheadedness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Nausea
  • Urinating often
  • Lump in the throat
  • Fatigue
  • Poor concentration
  • Being easily startled
  • Unable to relax

The symptoms of GAD may look like other mental health conditions. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

GAD begins gradually, usually in childhood or adolescence, but can begin in adulthood, too. It is more common in women. It often runs in families.

 

How is GAD diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider or mental health professional diagnoses GAD. They can help determine whether your symptoms are related to another problem. The symptoms happen on most days and last 6 months or longer.

How is GAD treated?

Your healthcare provider will consider your overall health, and other factors when advising treatment for you.

Treatment may include:

  • Medicine
  • Counseling (cognitive behavioral therapy, or psychotherapy)
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Working with a therapist to boost coping skills
  • Making lifestyle changes to reduce stress and avoid stimulating substances. Also, seek help with quitting smoking, drug or alcohol use.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

If you have any symptoms of GAD, see your healthcare provider.

Key points about GAD?

  • Generalized anxiety disorder is a condition of excessive worry about everyday issues and situations.
  • It lasts longer than 6 months.
  • In addition to feeling worried you may also feel restlessness, fatigue, trouble concentrating, irritability, increased muscle tension, and trouble sleeping.
  • The best treatment involves a combination of both medicines and cognitive behavioral therapy. Symptoms tend to be chronic but get less severe as person gets older.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.