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Generalized Anxiety Disorder - Topic Overview

What is generalized anxiety disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder occurs when you feel worried and stressed about many everyday events and activities. Often the things you are worried about are small or not important. This type of worry disrupts your life most days. Everyone gets worried or anxious sometimes. But people with generalized anxiety disorder experience more than normal everyday worries.

Many people who have generalized anxiety disorder have physical symptoms, such as headaches or being tired all the time.

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Anyone can get generalized anxiety disorder at any age. But it usually starts when you are a child or teenager. Most people with generalized anxiety disorder have felt nervous or anxious as long as they can remember. About 5% of people have generalized anxiety disorder at some time.1 Women are twice as likely as men to have the problem.

Many people with generalized anxiety disorder also have other problems such as depression, other anxiety illnesses (obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or social anxiety disorder), alcohol abuse, or personality disorder.

What causes generalized anxiety disorder?

The cause of generalized anxiety disorder is not known. Some studies show that it might be passed through the family (genetic).

Some problems such as hyperthyroidism can cause generalized anxiety symptoms.

Some medicines can cause worry and stress or make your stress worse, such as medicines with amphetamines (Ritalin) or too much caffeine. Illegal drugs such as cocaine can also cause these symptoms. Be sure to talk with your doctor about any medicines you are taking.

What are the symptoms?

People who have generalized anxiety disorder get worried and stressed about many things almost every day. They have a hard time controlling their worry. Adults with this problem often worry about money, family, health, or work. Children with this problem often worry about how well they can do an activity, such as school or sports.

You might also have physical symptoms, such as:

  • Feeling tired or irritable, or having a hard time concentrating.
  • Having headaches or muscle aches.
  • Having a hard time swallowing.
  • Feeling shaky, sweating, or having hot flashes.
  • Feeling lightheaded, sick to your stomach, or out of breath.
  • Having to go to the bathroom often.
  • Feeling like you can't relax, or being startled easily.
  • Having problems falling or staying asleep.

How is generalized anxiety disorder diagnosed?

To find out if you have this problem, your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and how long you have had them. Your doctor will also do a physical exam, ask questions about your medical history, and ask questions about medicines you are taking. This information helps your doctor find out whether you have any other condition.

To be diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, you must have more worry and stress than normal. You must feel worried and stressed about many things almost every day. And these feelings must last for at least 6 months. You will also have some physical symptoms. The worry, stress, and physical symptoms might make it hard for you to do normal activities such as going to work every day or doing grocery shopping.

If you think you may have an anxiety disorder, fill out a form(What is a PDF document?) to check your symptoms.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: July 11, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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