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Generalized Anxiety Disorder

  • Amy Scholten, MPH
Publication Type:


Generalized Anxiety Disorder



Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is an anxiety disorder. It is marked by long term, excessive worries and tension. The worries are severe and affect daily life. Treatment helps manage GAD.


GAD may be caused by:

  • Genetics
  • A stressful environment
  • Developmental factors
  • Psychological traits

Risk Factors

GAD is more common in women and older adults. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Being widowed, separated, or divorced
  • Family members with an anxiety or mood disorders
  • Increased stress
  • Physical or emotional abuse
  • A history of drug or alcohol abuse
  • Medical conditions or disability
  • History of self-harm or suicide attempts as a teenager


Symptoms of GAD often start slowly.

Psychological symptoms include:

  • Excessive and ongoing worrying and tension
  • Feeling tense or edgy
  • Irritability, overly stressed
  • Problems focusing, forgetfulness

Physical symptoms may include:

  • Muscle tension
  • Lightheadedness
  • Trembling
  • Restlessness or problems sleeping
  • Sweating
  • Pounding heartbeats, chest pain, or problems breathing
  • Digestive concerns such as:
  • Numbness or tingling
Symptoms of Anxiety.

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People with GAD often have other anxiety disorders, depression, or substance use disorders.


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and past health. A physical and mental health exam will be done. The doctor will ask about medicines and use of caffeine, drugs, and alcohol.

Blood and urine tests may be done to rule out other conditions.

To diagnosis GAD, symptoms must:

  • Be present more days than not
  • Be present for at least 6 months
  • Disrupt a person's life

A mental health specialist may do more tests.



There are no current guidelines to prevent GAD.


Counseling can help manage GAD symptoms. Some options are:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)—to change patterns of thinking
  • Psychodynamic therapy—talk therapy to address negative feelings and buried emotions
  • Mindfulness and meditation—to slow racing thoughts and calm mind and body
  • Relaxation therapy—deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and visualization to ease tension
  • Acceptance-based therapy—action-based therapy




  • Anxiety disorders. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at:https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders.
  • Anxiety treatment. Anxiety and Depression Association of America website. Available at: https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad/treatment.
  • DeMartini J, Patel G, et al. Generalized anxiety disorder. Ann Intern Med. 2019;170(7):ITC49-ITC64.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/generalized-anxiety-disorder.


  • Adrian Preda, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.