What is General Anxiety Disorder?

Published 4:04 pm Friday, April 15, 2016

General Anxiety Disorder or GAD is an anxiety disorder characterized by chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry and tension, even when there is little or nothing to provoke it. GAD is much more than the normal anxiety people experience day to day. Characteristics include anticipating disaster, often worrying excessively about health, money, family or work. Everyone gets worried sometimes, but if you experience signs associated with GAD, you stay worried, fear the worst will happen and cannot relax. At times, GAD sufferers are not worried about anything specific, but feel tense and worried all day long.

People with GAD can’t seem to shake their chronic worrying or concerns, even though they consciously realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants. Worries are accompanied by physical symptoms, including fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, muscle aches, difficulty swallowing and trembling. Other signs surface as irritability, sweating and hot flashes. GAD sufferers may feel lightheaded or out of breath and may also experience nausea.

General Anxiety Disorder often surfaces in childhood or teen years. However, the disorder is not limited to youth and can develop well into adulthood. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, GAD affects four million adult Americans and about twice as many women as men. The disorder comes on gradually and can begin across the life cycle, though the risk is highest between childhood and middle age. It is diagnosed when someone spends at least six months worrying excessively about a number of everyday problems. There is also evidence that genes play a modest role in GAD.

If you or someone you know suffers from General Anxiety Disorder or the symptoms associated with the disorder, the National Institute of Mental Health recommends you talk with your doctor. A physician can help determine whether the symptoms are due to GAD, some other medical condition, or both. Frequently, the next step in getting help for GAD is referral to a mental health professional. Among the professionals who can help are psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and counselors.

Effective treatments have been developed for General Anxiety Disorder. It is a real illness and in general can be treated with medicine and therapy. The choice of one or the other, or both, depends on the patient’s and doctor’s preference. If medications are prescribed, it is best to:

-Ask your physician to tell you about the side effects of the medication.

-Tell your doctor about other medications of over-the-counter medications you are using.

-Ask when and how the medication will be stopped.

-Be aware that some medications are effective in anxiety disorders only as long as they are taken regularly, and symptoms may occur again when discontinued.

-Work together with your physician to determine the right dosage of the right medication to treat GAD.

Free information about GAD can be found on the National Institute of Mental Health website (www.nimh.nih.gov) or call 1-800-88-ANXIETY for information. Also, visit clinicaltrials.gov to read information on current clinical trials and studies about GAD.

Michael Bilbro, MHA, is program director for Behavioral Health at Vidant Beaufort Hospital.