Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by 6 months or more of chronic, exaggerated worry and tension that is unfounded or much more severe than the normal anxiety most people experience. People with this disorder usually expect the worst; they worry excessively about money, health, family, or work, even when there are no signs of trouble. They are unable to relax and often suffer from insomnia. Many people with GAD also have physical symptoms, such as fatigue, trembling, muscle tension, headaches, irritability or hot flashes. Fortunately, through research supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and by industry, effective treatments have been developed to help people with GAD.
How Common Is GAD?
- About 2.8% of the adult U.S. population ages 18 to 54 – approximately 4 million Americans – has GAD during the course of a given year.
- GAD most often strikes people in childhood or adolescence, but can begin in adulthood, too. It affects women more often than men.
What Causes GAD?
Some research suggests that GAD may run in families, and it may also grow worse during stress. GAD usually begins at an earlier age and symptoms may manifest themselves more slowly than in most other anxiety disorders.
What Treatments Are Available for GAD?
Treatments for GAD include medications and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Most cases of anxiety disorder can be treated successfully by appropriately trained health and mental health care professionals.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, research has demonstrated that both ‘behavioral therapy’ and ‘cognitive therapy’ can be highly effective in treating anxiety disorders. Behavioral therapy involves using techniques to reduce or stop the undesired behavior associated with these disorders. For example, one approach involves training patients in relaxation and deep breathing techniques to counteract the agitation and hyperventilation (rapid, shallow breathing) that accompany certain anxiety disorders.
Through cognitive therapy, patients learn to understand how their thoughts contribute to the symptoms of anxiety disorders, and how to change those thought patterns to reduce the likelihood of occurrence and the intensity of reaction. The patient’s increased cognitive awareness is often combined with behavioral techniques to help the individual gradually confront and tolerate fearful situations in a controlled, safe environment.
Proper and effective medications may have a role in treatment along with psychotherapy. In cases where medications are used, the patient’s care may be managed collaboratively by a therapist and physician. It is important for patients to realize that there are side effects to any drugs, which must be monitored closely by the prescribing physician.
Can People With GAD Also Have Other Illnesses?
Research shows that GAD often coexists with depression, substance abuse, or other anxiety disorders. Other conditions associated with stress, such as irritable bowel syndrome, often accompany GAD. Patients with physical symptoms such as insomnia or headaches should also tell their doctors about their feelings of worry and tension. This will help the patient’s health care provider to recognize that the person is suffering from GAD.
Other Sources of Information
National Anxiety Foundation
The Anxiety Disorders Education Program, National Institute of Mental Health
6001 Executive Blvd.
Room 8184, MSC 9663
Bethesda, MD 20892-9663
Or call 301-443-4513.Publications and other information are also available online from the NIMH Website at http://www.nimh.nih.gov or by calling toll-free 1-88-88-ANXIETY (1-888-826-9438).
Current Trials in Anxiety Disorders