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What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

If constant worry is your constant companion, you may have GAD

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

If you tend to worry a lot, even when there’s no reason, you may have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD means that you are worrying constantly and can’t control it.

“Health care professionals diagnose GAD when your worrying happens on most days and for at least six months,” says Katherine Tsung, MD, LVPG Adult and Pediatric Psychiatry. GAD is one of the most common mental disorders in the U.S.

Worrying may be something you are so used to. You may think it’s just how you are. Common worries include your health, money, family or work.

“Everyone worries about these things once in a while,” Dr. Tsung says. “But if you always expect the worst, it can get in the way of living a normal life.”

GAD begins slowly, often in childhood or the teen years. But it can begin in adulthood, too. It’s more common in women and often runs in families.

If you have GAD, you may also have another mental health condition such as depression.

What causes GAD?

“GAD can develop when you can’t cope well with your internal stress,” Dr. Tsung says. “But it’s not clear why some people get it and others don’t.” Experts have shown that the areas of the brain that control fear and anxiety are affected.

“If you have GAD, you likely know that your anxiety is more intense than the situation calls for.” - Katherine Tsung, MD

Sometimes the symptoms of GAD can happen as a side effect of a medicine or of substance abuse. It can also be linked to health conditions (such as hyperthyroidism) that increase hormones. This can make the body response more excitable. GAD can be triggered by family or environmental stress. Long-term illness and disease can also trigger GAD.

What are the symptoms of GAD?

“If you have GAD, you likely know that your anxiety is more intense than the situation calls for,” Dr. Tsung says. “But still you can’t stop these unfounded concerns.” Each person’s symptoms may be a bit different. But these are the most common symptoms:

  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Trembling
  • Twitching
  • Tense muscles
  • Headaches
  • Grouchiness
  • Sweating
  • Hot flashes
  • Lightheadedness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Upset stomach
  • Urinating often
  • Lump in the throat
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Trouble focusing
  • Being easily startled
  • Unable to relax

The symptoms of GAD may seem like other mental health conditions. Always see your primary care doctor or clinician for a diagnosis.

How is GAD treated?

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Treatment may include:

  • Medicine
  • Relaxation methods
  • Working with a therapist to boost coping skills
  • Making lifestyle changes to reduce stress and stay away from stimulating substances. This can often include exercise. Also seek help with quitting smoking or drug or alcohol use.

If your day-to-day life is affected by constant worry or other symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, it's time to get help.

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