Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by chronic and exaggerated worry and tension that commonly interferes with daily life. Persons with GAD are typically overly anxious about everyday issues such as health, money, family or work and they continually anticipate disaster. It is often a situation where anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants, but one cannot overcome the fear and concern, however irrational it may be.
The anxiety caused by GAD is usually not incapacitating, and those affected do not typically feel overly restricted in social settings or on the job. Depression, substance abuse or another anxiety disorder may be present in those with GAD and can make diagnosis and treatment more difficult.
Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
The symptoms of GAD gradually develop, usually in childhood or adolescence, although they can also begin in adulthood. Generalized anxiety disorder is more common in women than men and it often occurs within families. Each year, about three percent of the population ages 18 to 54 are affected by GAD, according to a national survey on mental disorders.
Each individual may experience different symptoms of GAD, which can include the following: 
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Trembling or twitching
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Sweating
  • Hot flashes
  • Lightheadedness and/or difficulty breathing
  • Nausea
  • Frequent urination
  • Feeling as though there is a lump in your throat
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Being easily startled
  • Inability to relax

Many of these symptoms overlap with those associated with other psychiatric conditions.

Diagnosing Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Your doctor will perform a thorough physical exam and obtain a medical and social history in an effort to confirm that you have worried excessively about a number of everyday problems for at least six months. Psychological questionnaires will be used to further assess your symptoms and behavior. If your doctor suspects that an underlying condition might be causing your anxiety, blood and urine tests may be ordered.
Treating Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Your doctor will consider many different factors to develop an individualized treatment plan for you, including the following:
  • Your age, overall health and medical history
  • The severity and extent of your GAD
  • Your expected tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies
  • Your expectations for the course of the disease
  • Your opinion or preference

Your treatment plan for GAD may consist of one or more of the following approaches.
  • Anti-anxiety medications, such as antidepressants, antihistamines or beta blockers, are commonly prescribed to relieve the symptoms of GAD.
  • Psychological treatments, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, will help you control the thoughts that cause anxiety.
  • Relaxation techniques including progressive relaxation (relaxing individual part of the body until the whole body becomes relaxed) and relaxing visualization (bringing relaxing images to mind) may be helpful in persons with GAD.
  • Biofeedback techniques are often taught to patients with GAD to help them control muscle tension and mental activity