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Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), also known as chronic anxiety neurosis, is a condition characterized by excessive anxiety and worry about common occurrences and everyday life events. It’s quite normal to feel anxious when there is a reason to worry, such as financial instability. However, a person suffering from GAD may take his or her worries to another level, when there actually isn't a reason to worry. The people themselves are aware of the fact that their worry is baseless and irrational, but can’t do anything to control such feelings. This excessive, irrational worry ultimately ruins both the individual's personal and professional life. Therefore, if you are having the symptoms of GAD, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

A person suffering from GAD may experience the following symptoms:

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• Excessive, exaggerated worry and tension
• Difficulty concentrating
• An unrealistic view of problems
• Trouble falling or staying sleeping
• Fatigue/exhaustion
• Irritability
• Muscle tension
• Headaches
• Upset stomach or diarrhea
• Sweating palms
• Shaking
• Racing heartbeat
• Numbness or tingling sensations in different parts of the body

In addition to the above, people suffering from GAD often have other anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, clinical depression, or additional problems, such as substance abuse.

Causes and Risk Factors of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

While the exact reason of GAD isn’t known, a number of factors can contribute to the onset of this condition, such as:

1) Genetics: According to some studies, family history plays a major role in increasing the probability that a person will develop GAD. This means that a person with a family history of GAD is likely to develop this disorder too, and that it is passed in generations.

2) Brain chemistry: The scientific cause of GAD is associated with the anomalous functioning of certain nerve cell pathways that connect specific brain regions responsible for thoughts and emotions. When these pathways do not work efficiently, problems related to mood or anxiety may arise.

3) Environmental factors: Recent or prolonged exposure to stressful events, such as abuse, conflict in the relationship, divorce, the death of a loved one, changing jobs, or schools, may contribute to GAD. The excessive use of caffeine or tobacco can also worsen anxiety. 

Diagnoses of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Your primary healthcare provider will diagnose GAD with a mental health screening. They will ask you certain questions related to your symptoms and how long you’ve been experiencing them. If two or more symptoms related to GAD exist, the doctor can refer you to a mental health professional or psychiatrist.

The initial counseling session may also be combined with medical tests to determine whether there is an underlying illness or substance abuse causing the problem. Anxiety has been linked to heart disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), thyroid disorders, and menopause.

If your doctor doubts that a medical condition or problem of substance abuse is the cause of the anxiety, he or she may perform more tests such as blood test, urine test, Gastric reflux test, X-rays and stress test.

Treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

The treatment of GAD often includes a combination of medications and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

1) Medications: Your doctor will most likely create a short-term and a long-term medication plan to treat GAD. Short-term medications are anti-anxiety medicines that relieve some of the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as stomach cramping and muscle tension. These are prescribed for short periods only, as they have a high risk for dependence and abuse. Medicines called antidepressants are prescribed for long-term treatment.

2) Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: This involves meeting regularly with a mental health professional for a face-to-face counseling session. CBT teaches you new ways to think about or face stressful situations by replacing vague thoughts with healthy thoughts. The therapy will help you be less afraid, change your thinking and behaviors and regain a sense of control in your life as you work through the various dimensions of wellness.

The Bottom Line

In addition to everything mentioned above, many people can also help themselves by adopting certain lifestyle habits, such as exercising regularly, yoga, meditation and avoiding caffeine and alcohol. By combining therapy, medicines, and lifestyle changes, most people can manage GAD.