Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder: What Is It?

Generalized anxiety disorder, shortened to GAD, is when a patient suffers from uncontrollable worry about situations/occurrences that are common. This is also known as chronic anxiety neurosis.

This is different to just generally feeling anxious about something. It is normal to be anxious about finances every now and then but those suffering from GAD will uncontrollably worry about them all the time for months; even when there is no reason to worry about them. The patient will know that there’s no need to worry but they will still do it.

The anxiety can also shift quickly to other topics without any control, such as air travel dangers or their loved ones.

This is extremely frightening for many and affects daily lives and relationships.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder Symptoms

The common symptoms are:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Fatigue/exhaustion
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Sweaty palms
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shaking
  • Regular diarrhea/stomach cramps
  • Alcohol and drug abuse

GAD vs. Other Mental Health Problems

Anxiety is one of the many symptoms of other mental health problems, including phobias and depression. However, GAD is different in various ways.

Those with depression will feel anxious now and then. Those with phobias will only worry about that one thing they are scared of but people with GAD worry about a lot at the same time and usually over a long length of time – at least six months.

GAD Causes and Risks

There are a number of causes and risks of developing GAD:

  • Anxiety is in the family history
  • Excessive tobacco/caffeine use
  • Recent stressful situations
  • Prolonged exposure to troublesome situations
  • Child abuse in the past

Mayo Clinic states that GAD is more likely to affect women than men.

Diagnosing Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Doctors will perform a mental health screening to diagnose GAD. This will include questions about your feelings and worries and the length of time that you have worried about them. Your internist will be able to refer you onto a specialist to help with your mental health, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.

There are medical tests to help see if there is an underlying problem, such as abuse of substances or an illness. Those suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), heart disease, menopause and thyroid disorders can suffer from GAD, according to Mayo Clinic.

When your doctor thinks that it could be a medical problem or abuse of a substance, there are other tests available, including:

  • Urine tests for substance checks
  • Blood tests for hormone levels to check if it is a thyroid disorder
  • Stress tests and x-rays to test your heart function and monitor for any heart conditions
  • Gastric reflux test to check for GERD. This involves an endoscopy procedure to check your whole digestive system

Treatment of GAD

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

A mental health counselor will help you by meeting on a regular basis. The aim is to change the way you think and behavior in situations. Many patients find that this helps to make a permanent change so they take control of their life again.

There are regular therapy sessions teaching you how to realize that you are having an anxious thought and the steps to control it. You will also learn techniques to control yourself down when you are upset or situations arise.

You may also use medication at the same time.

Medications and drugs

There are many different options for medication when treating generalized anxiety disorder. Some are for the short term and others for the long term.

The shorter period drugs help with relaxing the system and offer help for the symptoms, including stomach cramps and muscle tension. You may also be prescribed anti-anxiety drugs including:

  • Xanax (alproazolam)
  • Klonopin (Clonazepam)
  • Buspar (Buspirone)
  • Ativan (Lorazepam)

These drugs are not designed for the long term but can force a habit.

When it comes to longer term medications, there are a number of antidepressants used. These include:

  • Celexa (citalopram)
  • Lexapro (escitalopram)
  • Prozac or Sarafem (fluoxetine)
  • Luvox and Luvox CR (fluvoxamine)
  • Zoloft (sertraline)
  • Paxil, Pexeva and Paxil CR (paroxetine)
  • Pristiq (desvenlafaxine)
  • Cymbalta (duloxetine)
  • Effexor XR (venlafaxine)
  • Wellbutrin SR, Wellbutrin and Wellbutrin XL (bupropion)

It can take some time for the medications to work and there are side effects to consider, including nausea and dry mouth. These side effects lead to a number of patients stopping them.

It is worth acknowledging that while this is low, there is a chance that young adults will experience an increase in their suicidal thoughts right at the start of the treatment. It is essential to continue talking to your doctor when taking anti-depressants and talk to him about any thought or mood changes that you have that are a worry.

You can take anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs at the same time but you will usually only have the latter ones for the first few weeks. Once your anti-depressants work properly, many patients stop taking the anti-anxiety medications.

Easing GAD Symptoms with Lifestyle Changes

It is possible to change some of your habits to help ease the symptoms of GAD. These include:

  • Exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and eating healthily
  • Doing meditation or yoga
  • Talking to a close friend/family member
  • Avoiding any stimulants, including some over the counter medications like diet pills and drinking caffeine

Anxiety and Alcohol

Alcohol can make you feel better about your anxiety at first. So many patients turn to alcohol to help them because of this. However, your depression, anxiety and irritability can increase as quickly as just a couple of hours later, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. It is possible for small amounts of the drink to affect the anxiety and mood levels.

If drinking starts to interfere with your daily life, you need to talk to a doctor. There is also support through Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) for free.

The Future for GAD Sufferers

Most people are able to manage their symptoms through changing their lifestyle, medication and therapy.