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Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Alternate Names

  • chronic worry
  • GAD


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.

What is going on 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.


What are the causes and risks of the condition?

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.


What can be done to prevent the condition?

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.


How is the condition diagnosed?

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?

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

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.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

GAD may have a negative effect on the individual's relationships with friends and family.


What are the treatments for the condition?

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).

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Medicine side effects depend on the drug prescribed. Drugs that cause psychological and physical addiction should be used with care.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the condition?

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.


How is the condition monitored?

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.

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