Health Encyclopedia

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

What is generalized anxiety disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) causes its sufferers chronic and exaggerated worry and tension that seem to have no substantial cause. People with generalized anxiety disorder often worry excessively about health, money, family, or work, and continually anticipate disaster.

Although GAD may be accompanied by depression, substance abuse, or another anxiety disorder, impairment is usually mild, except in severe cases. Generally, people with this disorder do not:

  • Feel too restricted in social settings

  • Feel too restricted on the job

  • Avoid certain situations

What are the characteristics of generalized anxiety disorder?

People with this disorder usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants, but cannot rid themselves of these irrational concerns. The following are the most common symptoms of GAD. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Trouble falling or staying asleep

  • Trembling

  • Twitching

  • Muscle tension

  • Headaches

  • Irritability

  • Sweating

  • Hot flashes

  • Lightheadedness and/or difficulty breathing

  • Nausea

  • Frequent urination

  • Feeling as though there is a lump in the throat

  • Fatigue

  • Lack of concentration

  • Being easily startled

  • Prone to irritable bowel syndrome

  • Inability to relax

The symptoms of GAD may resemble other psychiatric conditions. Always see your health care provider for a diagnosis.

Who is affected by GAD?

GAD begins gradually, usually in childhood or adolescence, but can begin in adulthood, too. It is more commonly seen in women and often occurs in relatives of those affected. Each year, about 3 percent of adults are affected by GAD, and approximately 6.8 million American adults have it.

How is generalized anxiety disorder diagnosed?

GAD is diagnosed by a health care provider or mental health professional, who can help determine whether the symptoms you are experiencing are related to an anxiety disorder or another medical condition.

Treatment for generalized anxiety disorder

Specific treatment for GAD will be determined by your health care provider based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the disease

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the disease

  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Medication

  • Psychological treatment (for instance, cognitive behavioral therapy)

  • Relaxation techniques

  • Biofeedback (to control muscle tension)