Psych Central

Anxiety

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

By John Hauser, M.D.
Feb 02 2005

Table of Contents

The key feature of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is excessive worry.

Everyone worries to some degree at some point about something in their lives. However, the worry experienced by individuals with GAD is clearly out of proportion to the actual likelihood or impact of the feared event. The worry is longstanding.

Themes of worry may include health, finances, job responsibilities, safety of one's children or even being late for appointments. The worry is difficult to control and interferes with the task at hand. For example, students may find it difficult to get their schoolwork done and parents often describe difficulty letting their child get on the school bus. These feelings of worry and dread are accompanied by physical symptoms such as pain from muscle tension, headache, frequent urination, difficulty swallowing, "lump in the throat" or exaggerated startle response.

For some people this chronic anxiety and worry have become the standard approach taken to all situations and health experts recognize this condition as Generalized Anxiety Disorder. While the exact cause for GAD is uncertain, experts feel that it's a combination of biological factors and life events. It's not uncommon for some people with GAD to also have other medical disorders such as depression and/or panic disorder . These may be influenced by the activity certain chemicals systems in the brain.

Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

The first sign is chronic, irrational worry that can’t be turned off. This can focus on a variety of topics from health to money to job responsibilities. The worry, while ever present, can peak to the point that it prevents functioning.

Worries can be accompanied by physical symptoms that include trembling, twitching, muscle tension, headaches, sweating or hot flashes. The person might feel lightheaded, out of breath, nauseated or have to go to the bathroom a lot. Some people might feel they have lumps in their throats. Others startle more easily.

GAD comes on gradually and often hits people in childhood or adolescence but can begin in adulthood. According to the Diagnostics Statistics Manual IV, this excessive anxiety occurs more days than not and for at least six months. The person finds it difficult to control the worry.

In addition, there are certain physical conditions associated with GAD. At least three of the following symptoms need to be present for six months:

  • feeling keyed up, restless or on edge
  • being easily fatigued
  • having difficulty concentrating, or having oneÆ mind go blank
  • experiencing irritability
  • experiencing muscle tension
  • having sleep disturbances (difficulty falling or staying asleep; or having restless, unsatisfying sleep)

In addition, the focus of the anxiety and worry is not directed to worrying about a particular occurrence, such as having a panic attack, as in panic disorder or being embarrassed in public as in social phobia or being contaminated as in obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The anxiety, worry and physical symptoms cause significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning. ItÆ also important to rule out that the anxiety is not due to drugs, prescription medication, alcohol or another medical condition, such as hyperthyroidism.


What's Related


Learn more about anxiety disorders...
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 26 May 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

When fear ceases to scare you, it cannot stay.
~ Gary Zukav