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Generalized Anxiety Disorder

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is much more than the normal anxiety people experience day to day. It's chronic and fills one's day with exaggerated worry and tension, even though there is little or nothing to provoke it. Having this disorder means always anticipating disaster, often worrying excessively about health, money, family, or work. Sometimes, though, the source of the worry is hard to pinpoint. Simply the thought of getting through the day provokes anxiety.

People with generalized anxiety disorder can't seem to shake their concerns, even though they usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants. Their worries are accompanied by physical symptoms, especially fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, muscle aches, difficulty swallowing, trembling, twitching, irritability, sweating, and hot flashes. People with Generalized anxiety disorder may feel lightheaded or out of breath. They also may feel nauseated or have to go to the bathroom frequently.

Individuals with generalized anxiety disorder seem unable to relax, and they may startle more easily than other people. They tend to have difficulty concentrating, too. Often, they have trouble falling or staying asleep.

Unlike people with several other anxiety disorders, people with Generalized anxiety disorder don't characteristically avoid certain situations as a result of their disorder. When impairment associated with generalized anxiety disorder is mild, people with the disorder may be able to function in social settings or on the job. If severe, however, generalized anxiety disorder can be very debilitating, making it difficult to carry out even the most ordinary daily activities.

Generalized anxiety disorder affects about 4 million adult Americans1 and about twice as many women as men. The disorder comes on gradually and can begin across the life cycle, though the risk is highest between childhood and middle age. Generalized anxiety disorder is diagnosed when someone spends at least 6 months worrying excessively about a number of everyday problems. There is evidence that genes play a modest role in Generalized anxiety disorder.

Generalized anxiety disorder is commonly treated with medications. Generalized anxiety disorder rarely occurs alone, however; it is usually accompanied by another anxiety disorder, depression, or substance abuse. These other conditions must be treated along with generalized anxiety disorder.

NIH Publication No. 01-4928

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