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What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are filled with greatly exaggerated worry and tension -- even though there is usually nothing to worry about. These individuals anticipate disaster and ruminate about their health, their finances, their work, their relationships and family problems.

To make a diagnosis of GAD, excessive worrying and anxiety have to occur more days than not for at least 6 months. The person is unable to control the worry and may have other symptoms including:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Restlessness
  • Sleep disturbance

This anxiety disorder is not related to substance abuse or a medical condition. It occurs independently.

What Is Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder is another type of generalized anxiety disorder that often co-exists with depression. Panic disorder affects 6 million Americans every year, most often young adults.

Panic disorder involves the sudden onset of overwhelming fear and terror. The person may also experience:

  • Chest pain
  • Choking
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweaty palms
  • Tachycardia (an unusually rapid heart beat)
  • Trembling

The person feels like he or she is either going to faint, have a heart attack and die, or go crazy.

For somebody to be diagnosed with panic attack, at least four of the following symptoms need to be present:

  • Chest pain
  • Choking sensation
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme sweating
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Fear of dying
  • Feeling of losing control
  • Feelings of unreality or being detached from oneself
  • Hot flashes or chills
  • Nausea
  • Numbness
  • Shakiness
  • Shortness of breath

These symptoms are often accompanied by worry over the implications of the attack -- like fear of death from a heart attack -- and altered behavior, like avoiding a particular place because of the attack.

What Is Phobic Disorder?

Specific phobias are the most common type of anxiety disorder. They involve an unreasonable or irrational fear of something that poses little or no real danger. The fear can be of a situation, object, or event. If people with phobias can't avoid what they fear, then it immediately results in a marked anxiety response. This response can include rapid heartbeat, nausea, or profuse sweating. Phobias are common and strike one out of 10 Americans, with women twice as likely to have a phobia as men.

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