What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

People who experience Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) usually feel anxiety and worry. A person may find it difficult to keep worried thoughts from interfering with everyday circumstances such as job responsibilities, finances, household chores, etc. for more on Anxiety Disorder here and here

To be diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, a person must:

* unrealistically worry about several events or activities
* intense worry that results in physical or psychological symptoms
* worry lasting more than six months

This means the person lives with unending worry. There is a constant uneasy feeling, no matter what he does. He feels as through he has no control over his worry. In addition to worrying, symptoms include dry mouth, muscle tension, trouble swallowing or sleeping, irritability, nausea, trembling, twitching, or shaking.


The first step is to determine whether another illness is causing the severe anxiety. This is especially important when symptoms have started recently, rather than in childhood. The anxiety may be caused by thyroid disease or excessive use of caffeine, alcohol, stimulants, marijuana or other drugs. Once GAD is diagnosed, it is important for the patient to avoid these substances since they may exacerbate the anxiety.


Milder forms of GAD are best treated with psychotherapy. Patients are taught strategies to manage anxiety symptoms & to combat anxiety producing thoughts. A variety of medicines are now available for treating severe GAD or episodes of particularly intense anxiety. The most commonly prescribed antianxiety medicines are the benzodiazepines.

Over a lifetime, it is estimated that 5% of a population will develop Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It is more common in women than in men and it usually develops in childhood or early adulthood. The symptoms are generally chronic and get worse during stressful situations.

GAD and the Elderly

Many elderly people face changes when growing older, including threats to their independence and major losses in life. About 20% of all elderly persons report some symptoms of anxiety. In addition, anxiety symptoms arising from physical problems or medication side effects are more frequent among the elderly. For example, breathing problems, irregular heart beats, and tremors can simulate symptoms of anxiety. Anxiety can occur along with other psychiatric problems too; over half of elderly persons with severe depression also meet the criteria for generalized anxiety disorder.