Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is an anxiety disorder marked by chronic, exaggerated worrying and anxiety about everyday life. The worry is so severe that it interferes with a person's ability to live his or her life.
GAD may be caused by:
GAD is nearly twice as common in women than in men. Other factors that may increase your chance of GAD include:
Symptoms of GAD usually develop slowly. People with GAD often have both psychological and physical symptoms of anxiety.
Psychological symptoms include:
Physical symptoms may include:
People with GAD often have other anxiety disorders, depression, and/or substance use disorders.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical and psychiatric exam will be done. Conditions with similar symptoms will be evaluated. Blood and urine tests may be done.
You will be asked about any medications that you are taking, including over-the-counter products, herbs, and supplements. Some medications can cause side effects similar to the symptoms of GAD. You will also be asked about any other substances that you may be using such as nicotine, caffeine, illegal drugs, prescription medications, and alcohol.
To make a diagnosis of GAD, symptoms must:
You may be referred to a psychotherapist for further evaluation.
If you have a mild form of GAD, your doctor will probably first have you try therapy to learn to manage anxious thoughts.
Lifestyle changes may include:
Relaxation techniques may be helpful in reducing anxiety. These may include:
During cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), your therapist will work with you to change your patterns of thinking. This will allow you to notice how you react to situations that cause anxiety. You will then learn to change your thinking so you can react differently. This can decrease the symptoms of anxiety.
Your therapist will teach you relaxation techniques, including deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and visualization. Learning ways to relax can help you gain control over anxiety. Instead of reacting with worry and tension, you can learn to remain calm. Your therapist may also slowly expose you to the situations that cause worry and tension. This can allow you to reduce your anxiety in a safe environment.
Biofeedback works by attaching sensors to the body. A therapist helps you understand your body’s signals so you can use them to reduce your anxiety.
Medication can be prescribed for symptoms that are severe and make it difficult to function. Medications can help relieve symptoms so you can concentrate on getting better. It is important to note that many medications cannot be stopped quickly but need to be tapered off. Check with your doctor before discontinuing any medication.
Medications may include:
Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of these medications. Some types may cause dependence.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America
Mental Health America
Canadian Psychiatric Association
Canadian Psychological Association
Antidepressant use in children, adolescents, and adults. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/InformationbyDrugClass/UCM096273. Updated December 23, 2014. Accessed January 26, 2016.
Anxiety disorders. Mental Health America website. Available at: http://www.nmha.org/conditions/anxiety-disorders. Accessed January 26, 2016.
Generalized anxiety disorder. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114697/Generalized-anxiety-disorder. Updated July 28, 2016. Accessed September 28, 2016.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad/index.shtml. Accessed January 26, 2016.
Gliatto MF. Generalized anxiety disorder. Am Fam Physician. 2000;62(7):1591-1600.
9/12/2012 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114697/Generalized-anxiety-disorder: Li AW, Goldsmith CA. The effects of yoga on anxiety and stress. Altern Med Rev. 2012;17(1):21-35.
11/6/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114697/Generalized-anxiety-disorder: Mars B, Heron J, Crane C, et al. Clinical and social outcomes of adolescent self harm: population based birth cohort study. BMJ. 2014;349:g5954.
Last reviewed December 2015 by Adrian Preda, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.