Generalized anxiety disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder
It's normal to feel anxious from time to time, especially if your life is stressful. However, severe, ongoing anxiety that interferes with day-to-day activities may be a sign of generalized anxiety disorder.
It's possible to develop generalized anxiety disorder as a child or as an adult. Generalized anxiety disorder has similar symptoms as panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other types of anxiety, but they're all different conditions.
Living with generalized anxiety disorder can be a long-term challenge. In many cases, it occurs along with other anxiety or mood disorders. In most cases, generalized anxiety disorder improves with medications or psychological counseling (psychotherapy). Making lifestyle changes, learning coping skills and using relaxation techniques also can help.
Generalized anxiety disorder symptoms can vary. They can include:
There may be times when your worries don't completely consume you, but you still feel anxious even when there's no apparent reason. For example, you may feel intense worry about your safety or that of your loved ones, or you may have a general sense that something bad is about to happen.
Symptoms in children and adolescents
A child with the disorder may also:
When to see a doctor
Your worries are unlikely to simply go away on their own, and they may actually get worse over time. Try to seek professional help before your anxiety becomes severe — it may be easier to treat early on.
As with many mental health conditions, what causes generalized anxiety disorder isn't fully understood. It may involve naturally occurring brain chemicals (neurotransmitters), such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. It's likely that the condition has several causes that may include genetics, your life experiences and stress.
Some physical health conditions are associated with anxiety. Examples include:
Things that may increase your risk of developing generalized anxiety disorder include:
Generalized anxiety disorder does more than just make you worry. It can also lead to, or worsen, other mental and physical health conditions, including:
Preparing for your appointment
You may start by seeing your family doctor. However, you may need to see a psychiatrist or psychologist if you have severe anxiety or if you also have another mental health condition, such as depression. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions. A psychologist and certain other mental health providers can diagnose mental health conditions and provide counseling (psychotherapy).
Because there's often a lot of ground to cover during an initial appointment, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready, and know what to expect from your doctor or mental health provider.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. Some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Your mental health provider will take a number of steps to help diagnose generalized anxiety disorder. He or she may start by asking detailed questions about your symptoms and medical history. In some cases, mental health providers use psychological questionnaires to help identify what's going on. Your doctor may also do a physical examination to look for signs that your anxiety might be linked to an underlying medical condition.
To be diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, you must meet criteria spelled out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This manual is published by the American Psychiatric Association and is used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental conditions and by insurance companies to reimburse for treatment.
The following criteria must be met for a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder:
Generalized anxiety disorder often occurs along with other mental health problems, which can make diagnosis and treatment more challenging. Some disorders that commonly occur with generalized anxiety disorder include:
If your doctor suspects your anxiety may have a medical cause, he or she may order blood or urine tests or other tests to look for signs of a physical problem.
Treatments and drugs
The two main treatments for generalized anxiety disorder are medications and psychotherapy. You may even benefit more from a combination of the two. It may take some trial and error to discover exactly what treatments work best for you.
In some cases, medications not specifically approved for generalized anxiety disorder may be tried. Off-label use is a common and legal practice of using a medication to treat a condition not specifically listed on its prescribing label as an FDA-approved use.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most common types of psychotherapy for generalized anxiety disorder. Generally a short-term treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on teaching you specific skills to identify negative thoughts and behaviors and replace them with positive ones. Even if an undesirable situation doesn't change, you can reduce stress and gain more control over your life by changing the way you respond.
Lifestyle and home remedies
While most people with generalized anxiety disorder need psychotherapy or medications to get anxiety under control, lifestyle changes also can make a difference. Here are a few things that you can do:
Certain supplements may help relieve anxiety, although it isn't clear how much they help or what possible side effects they might have. Some supplements used to treat anxiety include:
Talk to your doctor before taking herbal remedies or supplements to make sure they're safe for you and won't interact with any medications you take.
Coping and support
To cope with generalized anxiety disorder, here are some things you can do:
There's no way to predict for certain what will cause someone to develop generalized anxiety disorder in the first place, but you can take steps to reduce the impact of symptoms if you're anxious:
Last Updated: 2011-09-08
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