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Generalized Anxiety Disorder - Topic Overview

How is it treated?

Generalized anxiety disorder is treated with medicines and/or therapy.

The two kinds of therapy that are used to treat generalized anxiety disorder are called applied relaxation therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy. In applied relaxation therapy, your therapist might ask you to imagine a calming situation to help you relax. In cognitive-behavioral therapy, your therapist will help you learn how to recognize and replace thoughts that make you feel stressed and worried.

Some of the medicines that are used to treat generalized anxiety disorder are:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft). Studies show sertraline to be a good medicine for children or adolescents with generalized anxiety disorder. These medicines usually take several weeks to a few months to work well.
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), such as venlafaxine (Effexor). Studies show venlafaxine to be a good medicine for people who have another problem along with generalized anxiety disorder, such as panic disorder or depression. These medicines take several weeks to work well.
  • Benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (Valium) or alprazolam (Xanax), which traditionally have been used to treat generalized anxiety disorder. In some people who take benzodiazepines, the body becomes too used to the medicine and the doctor might need to prescribe more of the medicine for it to work. If you stop taking benzodiazepines all of a sudden, you might feel more jittery or worried than usual (withdrawal symptoms). Some people might have seizures from stopping the medicine too quickly. Be sure to talk with your doctor before you stop taking your medicine. People can become addicted to it. Be sure not to let anyone else take this medicine.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), such as amitriptyline or nortriptyline (Pamelor), which have also traditionally been used to treat generalized anxiety disorder.
  • Buspirone, which is often used with other medicines to treat generalized anxiety disorder. It may be used alone if the anxiety is mild. It can take 2 to 3 weeks to start working. People who take buspirone will not become addicted to the medicine.
  • Trifluoperazine (Stelazine), an antipsychotic medicine that has been approved by the FDA to treat generalized anxiety disorder. Other antipsychotic medicines are also being studied. These medicines are not commonly used for generalized anxiety disorder because of their side effects, including mild to severe problems with body movements.

Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) can sometimes have side effects such as being restless and not being able to sleep. These symptoms can be similar to generalized anxiety disorder. But they usually go away after you take the medicine for a while.

Some medicines work better for some people than for others. Be sure to talk with your doctor about how the medicine is working for you. Sometimes you might need to try more than one type of medicine before you find one that works best for you.

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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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