Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worry about everyday things. People with the disorder, which is also referred to as GAD, experience excessive anxiety and worry, often expecting the worst even when there is no apparent reason for concern. They anticipate disaster and may be overly concerned about money, health, family, work, or other issues. GAD is diagnosed when a person finds it difficult to control worry on more days than not for at least six months and has three or more symptoms. Learn more symptoms. Sometimes just the thought of getting through the day produces anxiety. They don’t know how to stop the worry cycle and feel it is beyond their control, even though they usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants. GAD affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the population, in any given year. Women are twice as likely to be affected.
The disorder comes on gradually and can begin across the life cycle, though the risk is highest between childhood and middle age. Although the exact cause of GAD is unknown, there is evidence that biological factors, family background, and life experiences, particularly stressful ones, play a role. When their anxiety level is mild, people with GAD can function socially and be gainfully employed. Although they may avoid some situations because they have the disorder, some people can have difficulty carrying out the simplest daily activities when their anxiety is severe.
What Are the Symptoms of GAD?
GAD affects the way a person thinks, but the anxiety can lead to physical symptoms, as well. Symptoms of GAD can include:
- Excessive, ongoing worry and tension
- An unrealistic view of problems
- Restlessness or a feeling of being “edgy”
- Muscle tension
- Difficulty concentrating
- The need to go to the bathroom frequently
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Being easily startled
In addition, people with GAD often have other anxiety disorders (such as panic disorder or phobias), obsessive-compulsive disorder, clinical depression, or additional problems with drug or alcohol misuse.
What Causes GAD?
The exact cause of GAD is not fully known, but a number of factors — including genetics, brain chemistry, and environmental stresses — appear to contribute to its development.
Genetics: Some research suggests that family history plays a part in increasing the likelihood that a person will develop GAD. This means that the tendency to develop GAD may be passed on in families.
Brain chemistry: GAD has been associated with abnormal functioning of certain nerve cell pathways that connect particular brain regions involved in thinking and emotion. These nerve cell connections depend on chemicals called neurotransmitters that transmit information from one nerve cell to the next. If the pathways that connect particular brain regions do not run efficiently, problems related to mood or anxiety may result. Medicines, psychotherapies, or other treatments that are thought to “tweak” these neurotransmitters may improve the signaling between circuits and help to improve symptoms related to anxiety or depression.
Environmental factors: Trauma and stressful events, such as abuse, the death of a loved one, divorce, changing jobs or schools, may contribute to GAD. GAD also may become worse during periods of stress. The use of and withdrawal from addictive substances, including alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, can also worsen anxiety.