Generalized anxiety disorder is also called GAD. With this condition, the individual has chronic, repeated episodes of severe emotional and physical distress. People with this disorder have vague feelings of fear, impending danger, and dread for unknown reasons. In turn, these strong feelings result in physical changes in the body.
People who have chronic anxiety have altered brain activity, which can be seen in brain X-rays, scans, or other studies, although these tests are not used clinically to diagnose GAD or monitor response to treatmnet.
GAD causes constant, exaggerated worry that interferes with many areas of the person's life. Symptoms include: diarrheadifficulty concentratingdifficulty controlling worryexcessive sweatingfeeling nervousfeelings of impending dangerimpatienceinability to relaxirritabilitylack of enjoymentlightheadednessmuscle tensionpalpitations, which make it feel as if the heart is pounding or racingrestlessnessshortness of breathstartled reactionsstomach and bowel problemstrouble sleeping
Unlike other, more acute anxiety disorders, people who have GAD do not avoid the situations that make them anxious. However, the symptoms can still interfere with their routine activities. They may overreact to what they see as dangers. They tend to pay attention to the negative details in a situation. They may have little faith in their own ability to cope with their lives.
GAD typically begins in childhood or during the teen years. It can also begin in adulthood. It is more common among women.
GAD is not the result of a medical condition, medicine, or a substance use disorder, although any of these conditions can cause GAD-like symptoms.
Experts believe that GAD runs in families. It may also be related to personality factors such as low self-esteem and poor coping skills.
Life experiences can play a role too. For example, abuse, violence, and poverty might make someone more prone to developing GAD.
To prevent GAD, people must manage the demands that cause the problems. Learning how to cope better with the things that trigger anxiety can help. A good support system can also be helpful. Setting realistic demands and expectations is also key.
These actions can help to reduce anxiety: Relaxation techniques, such as meditation, self-hypnosis, and breathing exercises.Exercise (at least 30 minutes per day).Sleeping at least 8 hours each night.Adopting healthy eating habits such as drinking less caffeine and alcohol.Avoiding taking drugs known to cause anxiety.Counseling for specific problem areas, such as parenting skills and marital, family, career, or school issues.Talking with a doctor about whether there might be benefits from systematically desensitizing specific fears. This therapy can help someone gradually overcome a fear.Building support systems. Find people who can help with child care, housekeeping, and household tasks.
Physicians or mental healthcare providers usually diagnose an anxiety disorder. They will review the person's symptoms and conduct a complete mental health history and physical exam. This will help them rule out a physical cause. The doctor will also discuss lifestyle factors such as alcohol or drug use, stresses, recent life changes, medical illnesses, or relationship factors. To be diagnosed with the disorder, a person must have had symptoms of GAD most days for the past 6 months.
A thorough exam should include questions about the issues and events that increase the individual's anxiety. For example, the doctor may ask questions such as these: What does the anxiety feel like?How intense is it?When and how often do feelings of anxiety occur?What triggers the anxiety or aggravates it?
Anxiety is often linked to depression and can cause problems in a person's work and social life. Unlike many other anxiety disorders, the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder seem to lessen somewhat with age.
GAD may have a negative effect on the individual's relationships with friends and family.
The treatments for GAD are similar to the prevention methods listed above. A combination of lifestyle changes, stress reduction, relaxation techniques, counseling, or medicine may be effective. Cognitive behavioral therapy is useful.
Medicines may be used to treat anxiety. Examples of these include antidepressants such as sertraline (i.e., Zoloft), fluoxetine (i.e., Prozac), or citalopram (i.e., Celexa), and beta-blockers such as propranolol (i.e., Inderal) or atenolol (i.e., Tenormin).
Medicine side effects depend on the drug prescribed. Drugs that cause psychological and physical addiction should be used with care.
Most people are able to return to their daily activities after being treated with therapy and medicine. Often, medicine is given for a long time.
Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider. He or she may need to adjust the type or dose of the medication for better treatment results with fewer side effects.