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Generalized Anxiety Disorder

What is generalized anxiety disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a condition that causes you to feel worried or nervous for at least 6 months. The anxiety may be much more severe than the event causing it. You may not be able to do your daily activities because of the anxiety.

What causes generalized anxiety disorder?

The cause is not known. Usually, GAD appears after physical or emotional stress, such as the loss of a loved one. The following increase your risk of GAD:

  • You have a close family member with an anxiety disorder.

  • You have learning or memory problems.

  • You have a long-term condition, such as diabetes, depression, drug abuse, or alcoholism.

  • You are pregnant or recently delivered your baby.

  • You are a woman.

  • You are 25 years or younger.

What are the signs and symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder?

You may have symptoms like those of a serious health problem, such as a heart problem. You may be anxious and worried more often than not, and have a hard time controlling worry. You may also have any of the following:

  • Fatigue (very tired) or muscle tightness

  • Shaking, restlessness, or sleep problems

  • Dizziness or headaches

  • Feeling jumpy or easily startled

  • Problems focusing on a task

  • Cold hands

  • Rapid heartbeat or shortness of breath

How is generalized anxiety disorder diagnosed?

Your caregiver will ask about your symptoms and when they began. He will ask what triggers your symptoms and if anxiety limits your daily activities. He will also ask about your medical history and if any family members have a similar condition. He may ask about your past and present alcohol or drug use.

How is generalized anxiety disorder treated?

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This involves changing your emotions by changing your behavior. Your caregiver may recommend different kinds of CBT. Caregivers may help you learn to handle thoughts that produce anxiety. Exposure or desensitization therapy helps you face a feared object, person, or situation. Relaxation therapy involves deep breathing, muscle relaxation, or music to help you relax.

  • Antidepressants: These relieve the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Other behavior problems may also be treated with antidepressants.

  • Antianxiety medicine: This medicine may be given to decrease anxiety and help you feel calm and relaxed.

What are the risks of generalized anxiety disorder?

Untreated GAD can cause you to develop other problems, such as alcohol or drug abuse, or depression. GAD may cause problems with your mood, relationships, and work. You may have thoughts of harming yourself or others.

Where can I find more information?

  • Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA)
    8730 Georgia Avenue, Suite 600
    Silver Spring , MD 20910
    Phone: 1- 240 - 485-1001
    Web Address:
  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Public Information & Communication Branch
    6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 8184, MSC 9663
    Bethesda , MD 20892-9663
    Phone: 1- 301 - 443-4513
    Phone: 1- 866 - 615-6464
    Web Address:

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have new symptoms since your last visit.

  • Your anxiety keeps you from doing your daily activities.

  • You have problems that you think may be caused by the medicine you are taking.

  • Your symptoms get worse or do not get better with treatment.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You feel like fainting or are lightheaded or too dizzy to stand up.

  • You feel like hurting yourself or someone else.

  • You have chest pain, tightness, or heaviness that may spread to your shoulders, arms, jaw, neck, or back.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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