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Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

What is generalized anxiety disorder?

If you tend to worry a lot, even when there’s no reason to, you may have generalized anxiety disorder or GAD. It may be something you are so used to, you may think it’s just “how you are”. Common worries include your health, money, family, or work. While everyone worries about these things once in awhile, if you always expect the worst, it can get in the way of living a normal life.  

If you have GAD, you may also have another mental health condition such as depression.       

What causes GAD?

GAD can develop when you can’t cope well with your internal stress. It also runs in families, but it’s not understood why some people get it and others don’t. Researchers have shown that the areas of the brain that control fear and anxiety are involved.

GAD can occur as a side effect of a medication or substance abuse. It can also be related to medical conditions, such as hyperthyroidism, that increase hormones. This can make the body response more excitable. GAD can be triggered by family or environmental stress. Chronic illness and disease can also trigger GAD.

What are the symptoms of GAD?

If you have GAD, you likely know that your anxiety is more intense than the situation calls for, but still you can’t stop these unfounded concerns. While each person may experience symptoms differently, the following are the most common symptoms:

  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Trembling
  • Twitching
  • Tense muscles
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Sweating
  • Hot flashes
  • Lightheadedness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Nausea
  • Urinating often
  • Lump in the throat
  • Fatigue
  • Poor concentration
  • Being easily startled
  • Unable to  relax

The symptoms of GAD may look like other mental health conditions. Always see your health care provider for a diagnosis.

GAD begins gradually, usually in childhood or adolescence, but can begin in adulthood, too. It is more common in women. It often runs in families.


How is GAD diagnosed?

Your health care provider or mental health professional diagnoses GAD. They can help determine whether your symptoms are related to another problem. The symptoms occur on most days and last 6 months or longer.

How is GAD treated?

Your doctor will consider your overall health, and other factors when advising treatment for you.

Treatment may include:

  • Medication
  • Counseling (cognitive behavioral therapy, or psychotherapy)
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Working with a therapist to boost coping skills
  • Making lifestyle changes to reduce stress and avoid stimulating substances. Also, seek  help with quitting smoking, drug or alcohol use.

When to seek medical care

If you have any symptoms of GAD, see your health care provider.

Key points

  • Generalized anxiety disorder is a condition of excessive worry about everyday issues and situations.
  • It lasts longer than 6 months.
  • In addition to feeling worried you may also feel restlessness, fatigue, trouble concentrating, irritability, increased muscle tension, and trouble sleeping.
  • The best treatment involves a combination of both medications and cognitive behavioral therapy. Symptoms tend to be chronic but get less severe as person gets older.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you.
  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.
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