Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized
by 6 months or more of chronic, exaggerated worry and tension that
is unfounded or much more severe than the normal anxiety most people
experience. People with this disorder usually expect the worst;
they worry excessively about money, health, family, or work, even
when there are no signs of trouble. They are unable to relax and
often suffer from insomnia. Many people with GAD also have physical
symptoms, such as fatigue, trembling, muscle tension, headaches,
irritability or hot flashes. Fortunately, through research supported
by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and by industry,
effective treatments have been developed to help people with GAD.
How Common Is GAD?
- About 2.8% of the adult U.S. population
ages 18 to 54 - approximately 4 million Americans - has GAD during
the course of a given year.
- GAD most often strikes people in childhood or adolescence, but
can begin in adulthood, too. It affects women more often than
What Causes GAD?
Some research suggests that GAD may run in families, and it
may also grow worse during stress. GAD usually begins at an earlier
age and symptoms may manifest themselves more slowly than in most
other anxiety disorders.
What Treatments Are Available for GAD?
Treatments for GAD include medications and cognitive-behavioral
therapy. Most cases of anxiety disorder can be treated successfully
by appropriately trained health and mental health care professionals.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, research
has demonstrated that both 'behavioral therapy' and 'cognitive therapy'
can be highly effective in treating anxiety disorders. Behavioral
therapy involves using techniques to reduce or stop the undesired
behavior associated with these disorders. For example, one approach
involves training patients in relaxation and deep breathing techniques
to counteract the agitation and hyperventilation (rapid, shallow
breathing) that accompany certain anxiety disorders.
Through cognitive therapy, patients learn to understand how their
thoughts contribute to the symptoms of anxiety disorders, and how
to change those thought patterns to reduce the likelihood of occurrence
and the intensity of reaction. The patient's increased cognitive
awareness is often combined with behavioral techniques to help the
individual gradually confront and tolerate fearful situations in
a controlled, safe environment.
Proper and effective medications may have a role in treatment along
with psychotherapy. In cases where medications are used, the patient's
care may be managed collaboratively by a therapist and physician.
It is important for patients to realize that there are side effects
to any drugs, which must be monitored closely by the prescribing
Can People With GAD Also Have Other Illnesses?
Research shows that GAD often coexists with depression, substance
abuse, or other anxiety disorders. Other conditions associated
with stress, such as irritable bowel syndrome, often accompany
GAD. Patients with physical symptoms such as insomnia or headaches
should also tell their doctors about their feelings of worry and
tension. This will help the patient's health care provider to
recognize that the person is suffering from GAD.
Other Sources of Information
National Anxiety Foundation
The Anxiety Disorders Education Program, National
Institute of Mental Health
6001 Executive Blvd.
Room 8184, MSC 9663
Bethesda, MD 20892-9663
Or call 301-443-4513.
Publications and other information are also available online from
the NIMH Website at
or by calling toll-free
Current Trials in Anxiety Disorders