Anxiety / Panic Attacks
What is General Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (or GAD) is characterized by excessive, exaggerated anxiety and worry about everyday life events with disruptive consequences. People with symptoms of GAD tend to always expect disaster and can’t stop worrying about health, money, family, work, or school. In people with GAD, the worry often is unrealistic or out of proportion for the situation. Daily life becomes a constant state of worry, fear, and dread. Eventually, anxiety so dominates the person’s thinking that it interferes with daily functioning, including work, school, social activities, and relationships. If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety symptoms, contact our Salt Lake City anxiety treatment professionals for help by calling (801) 261-3500.
What are the symptoms of GAD?
GAD changes the way a person thinks, but their 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 edginess
• Muscle tension
• Difficulty concentrating
• Frequent urination
• Trouble falling or staying asleep
• Being easily startled
In addition, people with GAD often have other anxiety disorders such as panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and phobias, and suffer from depression and/or abuse drugs or alcohol.
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 and severity.
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 levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are special chemical messengers that help move information from nerve cell to nerve cell. If neurotransmitters are out of balance, messages cannot get through the brain properly. This can alter the way the brain reacts in certain situations, leading to anxiety.
Environmental Factors: Trauma and stressful events may lead to GAD. These can include abuse, the death of a loved one, divorce, changing jobs or changing schools. GAD also may become worse during periods of stress. Anxiety can worsen from using addictive substances, including alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine.
How Common is GAD?
About 4 million adult Americans suffer from GAD during the course of a year. It most often begins in childhood or adolescence, but can begin in adulthood. It is more common in women than in men.
How is GAD Diagnosed?
If symptoms of GAD are present, your doctor will begin an evaluation by asking questions about your medical history and performing a physical examination. Although there are no laboratory tests to specifically diagnose anxiety disorders, your doctor may use various tests to look for physical illness that may cause the symptoms.
A doctor bases his or her diagnosis of GAD on reports of the intensity and duration of symptoms, including any problems with functioning caused by the symptoms. Your doctor will then determine if your symptoms indicate a specific anxiety disorder. GAD is diagnosed if symptoms are present during a period of at least six months. The symptoms also must interfere with daily living, such as causing you to miss work or school.
How is GAD Treated?
Treatment for GAD most often includes a combination of medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy:
Medication: Drugs are available to treat GAD and may be especially helpful for people whose anxiety is interfering with daily functioning. The medications most often used to treat GAD in the short-term are from a class of drugs called benzodiazepines. These medications are sometimes referred to as “tranquilizers,” because they leave you feeling calm and relaxed. They work by decreasing the physical symptoms of GAD, such as muscle tension and restlessness. Common benzodiazepines include Xanax, Librium, Valium and Ativan. Antidepressants, such as Paxil, Effexor, Prozac, Lexapro, and Zoloft, are also used to treat GAD. These antidepressants may take a few weeks to start working but they’re more appropriate for long-term treatment.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy: People suffering from anxiety disorders often participate in this type of therapy, in which you learn to recognize and change thought patterns and behaviors that lead to anxious feelings. This type of therapy helps limit distorted thinking.
In addition, relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and biofeedback may help to control muscle tension and headaches that often accompany GAD.
Are There Side-Effects of GAD Treatment?
Dependency on anti-anxiety medication (benzodiazepines) is a potential complication of treatment. Side effects of antidepressants vary by specific drug and the person taking them. Common side effects can include sleepiness, weight gain, and sexual problems.
What is the Outlook for People with GAD?
Although many people with GAD cannot be cured and symptoms can return from time to time, most people gain substantial relief from their symptoms with proper treatment.
Can GAD be Prevented?
Anxiety disorders cannot be prevented. However, the following may help you control or lessen symptoms:
- Stop or reduce your consumption of products that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea, cola and chocolate.
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist before taking any over-the-counter medicines or herbal remedies.
- Exercise daily and eat a healthy, balanced diet.
- Seek counseling and support after a traumatic or disturbing experience.
- Practice stress management techniques such as yoga or meditation.