GENERALIZED ANXIETY DISORDER
"I always thought I was just a worrier. I'd feel keyed up and unable to relax. At
times it would come and go, and at times it would be constant. It could go on for days.
I'd worry about what I was going to fix for a dinner party, or what would be a great
present for somebody. I just couldn't let something go.
"I'd have terrible sleeping problems. There were times I'd wake up wired in the middle
of the night. I had trouble concentrating, even reading the newspaper or a novel.
Sometimes I'd feel a little lightheaded. My heart would race or pound. And that would
make me worry more. I was always imagining things were worse than they really were:
when I got a stomachache, I'd think it was an ulcer.
"When my problems were at their worst, I'd miss work and feel just terrible about it.
Then I worried that I'd lose my job. My life was miserable until I got treatment."
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is much more than the normal anxiety people
experience day to day. It's chronic and fills one's day with exaggerated worry and
tension, even though there is little or nothing to provoke it. Having this disorder
means always anticipating disaster, often worrying excessively about health, money,
family, or work. Sometimes, though, the source of the worry is hard to pinpoint.
Simply the thought of getting through the day provokes anxiety.
People with GAD can't seem to shake their concerns, even though they usually realize
that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants. Their worries are
accompanied by physical symptoms, especially fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, muscle
aches, difficulty swallowing, trembling, twitching, irritability, sweating, and hot
flashes. People with GAD may feel lightheaded or out of breath. They also may feel
nauseated or have to go to the bathroom frequently.
Individuals with GAD seem unable to relax, and they may startle more easily than other
people. They tend to have difficulty concentrating, too. Often, they have trouble
falling or staying asleep.
Unlike people with several other anxiety disorders, people with GAD don't
characteristically avoid certain situations as a result of their disorder. When
impairment associated with GAD is mild, people with the disorder may be able to
function in social settings or on the job. If severe, however, GAD can be very
debilitating, making it difficult to carry out even the most ordinary daily activities.
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
- - 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.
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.
This information has been excerpted from material developed by the National Institute for Mental Health.