Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2000;62(7):1602

See related article on generalized anxiety disorder.

What is generalized anxiety disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) causes people to be worried or tense most of the time. Sometimes, they think something terrible will happen even though there's no reason to think that it will. They may also worry about health, money, family or work. They may feel tense without knowing why.

GAD usually starts when people are in their early 20s. About 10 million adults in the United States have this disorder. Women are more likely to have it than men.

How do I know if I have GAD?

Most people worry and these occasional worries are normal. This doesn't mean that you have GAD. You may have GAD if you can't stop worrying and relax. As a rule, if you have GAD, you worry so much that it interferes with your day-to-day life, and it happens more days than not. Here are other signs of GAD:

  • Trouble falling or staying asleep

  • Muscle tension

  • Irritability

  • Trouble concentrating, or your mind goes blank

  • Getting tired easily

  • Restlessness, or feeling “keyed up” or on edge

If you feel tense most of the time and have some of these symptoms, talk to your doctor. Your doctor will probably examine you and ask some questions to make sure that something else isn't causing your symptoms. Sometimes certain kinds of medicine may cause GAD. Your thyroid gland could be too active or you may be depressed. If your doctor doesn't find any other reason for your symptoms, you may need to be treated for GAD.

How is GAD treated?

If you have GAD, you must learn ways to cope with your anxiety and worry. You'll probably need some counseling to help you figure out what's making you so tense. Also, you may need to take some medicine to help you feel less anxious. Your doctor will be able to recommend the treatment that will be best for you.

Patients with GAD can get better. If you take medicine for generalized anxiety disorder, you may be able to stop taking it in the future.

To learn more about GAD, you can visit the Web site of the Anxiety Disorders Education Program at

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