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Generalized Anxiety Disorder


What is generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)?

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 GAD?

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

  • A family history of an anxiety disorder
  • Learning or memory problems
  • A long-term condition, such as diabetes, depression, drug abuse, or alcoholism
  • Pregnancy or recently giving birth
  • Being a woman
  • Age 25 years or younger

What are the signs and symptoms of GAD?

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 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 GAD diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider 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 GAD treated?

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) involves changing your emotions by changing your behavior. Your healthcare provider may recommend different kinds of CBT. A therapist 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.
  • Medicines may be given to relieve the symptoms of anxiety and depression and help you feel relaxed and calm.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • 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.

When should I seek immediate care?

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

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • 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.

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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