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Generalized anxiety disorder

GAD; Anxiety disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a mental disorder in which a person is often worried or anxious about many things and finds it hard to control this anxiety.

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Stress and anxiety
Generalized anxiety disorder

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Causes

The cause of GAD is unknown. Genes may play a role. Stress may also contribute to the development of GAD.

GAD is a common condition. Anyone can develop this disorder, even children. GAD occurs more often in women than in men.

Symptoms

The main symptom is frequent worry or tension for at least 6 months, even when there is little or no clear cause. Worries seem to float from one problem to another. Problems may involve family, other relationships, work, school, money, and health.

Even when they are aware that worries or fears are stronger than appropriate for the situation, a person with GAD still has difficulty controlling them.

Other symptoms of GAD include:

The person may also have other physical symptoms. These can include muscle tension, upset stomach, sweating, or difficulty breathing.

Exams and Tests

There is no test that can make a diagnosis of GAD. The diagnosis is based on your answers to questions about the symptoms of GAD. Your health care provider will ask about these symptoms. You will also be asked about other aspects of your mental and physical health. A physical exam or lab tests may be done to rule out other conditions that cause similar symptoms.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to help you feel better and function well in daily life. Talk therapy or medicine alone can be helpful. Sometimes, a combination of these may work best.

TALK THERAPY

Many types of talk therapy may be helpful for GAD. One common and effective talk therapy is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT can help you understand the relationship between your thoughts, behaviors, and symptoms. Often CBT involves a set number of visits. During CBT you can learn how to:

Other types of talk therapy may also be helpful in managing symptoms of an anxiety disorder.

MEDICINES

Certain medicines, usually used to treat depression, may be very helpful for this disorder. They work by preventing your symptoms or making them less severe. You must take these medicines every day. DO NOT stop taking them without talking with your provider.

Medicines called sedatives or hypnotics may also be prescribed.

SELF-CARE

Other than taking medicine and going to therapy, you can help yourself get better by:

Support Groups

You can ease the stress of having GAD by joining a support group. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone. Support groups are usually not a good substitute for talk therapy or taking medicine, but can be a helpful addition.

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well a person does depends on how severe the condition is. In some cases, GAD is long-term and is difficult to treat. Most people get better with medicine and/or talk therapy.

Possible Complications

Depression and substance abuse may occur with an anxiety disorder.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if you frequently worry or feel anxious, especially if it interferes with your daily activities.

Related Information

Stress and your health

References

American Psychiatric Association. Anxiety disorders. In: American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. 2013;189-234.

Calkins AW, Bui E, Taylor CT, Pollack MH, LeBeau RT, Simon NM. Anxiety disorders. In: Stern TA, Fava M, Wilens TE, Rosenbaum JF, eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 32.

Lyness JM. Psychiatric disorders in medical practice. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 369.

National Institute of Mental Health website. Anxiety disorders. www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml. Updated July 2018. Accessed June 17, 2020.

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Review Date: 5/10/2020  

Reviewed By: Fred K. Berger, MD, addiction and forensic psychiatrist, Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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