Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date.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. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2002;66(7):1291

What is generalized anxiety disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is ongoing, excessive worry or fear that is not related to a particular event or situation. It is out of proportion to what you would expect. For instance, a parent who has GAD may constantly worry about a child who is perfectly healthy.

About 4 million adults in the United States have GAD. Women are more likely to have it than men. It usually begins to affect people when they are in their early 20s.

How do I know if I have GAD?

Most people worry from time to time, and these occasional worries are normal. They don't mean that you have GAD. If you have GAD, you worry so much that it interferes with your day-to-day life, and you feel tense and worried more days than not. Other signs of GAD include the following:

  • Trouble falling or staying asleep

  • Muscle tension

  • Irritability

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Getting tired easily

  • Restlessness, or feeling keyed up or on edge

  • Shortness of breath

  • Pounding heartbeat

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 can cause GAD. You could also have these symptoms if your thyroid gland is too active, or if you are 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?

People with GAD must learn ways to cope with anxiety and worry. You'll probably need some counseling to help figure out what is making you so tense. You also may need to take some medicine to help you feel less anxious. Your doctor can recommend the treatment that is right for you.

People with GAD can get better. If you take medicine for GAD for awhile, you may be able to stop taking it at some point in the future. Your doctor will tell you if it's okay to stop taking your medicine.

To learn more about GAD, visit the Web site of the Anxiety Disorders Education Program at www.nimh.nih.gov/anxiety.

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