Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a mental health condition in which a person is often worried or anxious about many things and finds it hard to control this anxiety.
GAD; Anxiety disorder
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, affecting about 3% of people. Anyone can develop this disorder, even children. GAD occurs more often in women than in men.
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 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:
Problems falling or staying asleep, or sleep that is restless and unsatisfying
Restlessness when awake
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.
The goal of treatment is to help you feel better and function well in daily life. In less severe cases, talk therapy or medicine alone can be helpful. In more severe cases, a combination of these may work best.
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:
Understand and gain control of distorted views of stressors, such as other people's behavior or life events.
Recognize and replace panic-causing thoughts to help you feel more in control.
Manage stress and relax when symptoms occur.
Avoid thinking that minor problems will develop into terrible ones.
Medicines can also be an important part of treatment. Once you start them, do not stop taking them without talking with your provider. Commonly prescribed medicines for GAD include antidepressants and benzodiazepines.
Timothy Rogge, MD, medical director, family medical psychiatry center, Kirkland, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.