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What Has Research Shown About Treatments For Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) causes feelings of intense anxiety, worry, or nervousness about everyday life. People with GAD struggle to control these feelings, and the condition tends to interfere with daily activities and personal relationships.GAD, a type of anxiety disorder, is very common. It affects 3.1% of the population (or 6.8 million adults) in the United States in any given year. It is more common in women.Living with anxiety can be challenging. However, like other anxiety disorders, GAD is highly treatable. Some of the most effective treatments include psychotherapy, medication, and making lifestyle changes.In this article, we provide an overview of GAD, including its symptoms and causes. We also list some potential treatment options.The symptoms of GAD can vary from one individual to another.Symptoms may get better or worse at different times. Periods of high stress or physical illness, for example, often cause symptoms to worsen for a while.Emotional and cognitive symptoms of GAD include:uncontrollable and persistent worries, fears, and concernsan inability to deal with uncertainty about the futureintrusive thoughtsexcessive planning and troubleshootingdifficulty making decisionsfear of making the “wrong” decisionproblems concentratingan inability to relaxPhysical symptoms include:tense or tight musclesaches and painsdifficulty sleepingfatiguefeeling restless, jumpy, or twitchyheart palpitationsdigestive problems, such as nausea or diarrheabeing easily startledexcessive sweatingneeding to urinate more frequently than usualBehavioral symptoms include:being unable to relax or spend “quiet” time aloneswitching between tasks or not finishing tasks due to finding it difficult to concentratespending excessive amounts of time completing simple tasksredoing tasks because they are not “perfect”avoiding situations that trigger anxiety, including socializing with others and speaking in publicmissing school or work due to fatigue, fear, or other symptomsrequiring reassurance and approval from othersThe presence of other conditionsPeople with GAD often have co-occurring conditions. These may include:Physical healthResearchers also note that a number of physical conditions often occur alongside anxiety disorders. These include:gastrointestinal diseasecardiovascular diseaseskin disorderscancerchronic painmigrainedementiaParkinson’s diseaseIn some cases, anxiety may trigger physical symptoms. However, having a chronic health condition can also lead to anxiety.A doctor or mental health professional may diagnose GAD according to the criteria in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.To receive a diagnosis of GAD, a person must have:excessive anxiety and worry in several areas of their life on more days than not for at least 6 monthsdifficulty controlling these worriesat least three of the following symptoms (or just one symptom in the case of children): restlessnessfatiguedifficulty concentratingirritabilitytense musclessleep problemssignificant distress or problems functioning in social settings or at workAlso, these symptoms must not result from substance use or another medical condition.To confirm a diagnosis or rule out physical conditions that may be causing symptoms, a doctor may:perform a physical examinationtake a detailed medical and family historyuse a psychological questionnaireorder blood or urine testsThe exact cause of GAD is unknown. However, it most likely occurs as a result of a combination of several factors, including:GeneticsHaving a family history of GAD increases the risk of developing it, according to some research. For example, children of people with GAD are more likely to develop the condition themselves than those whose parents do not have it.Brain chemistry and structureDifferences in brain functioning may increase the risk of developing an anxiety disorder. People with GAD also show differences in brain structure on neuroimaging studies using functional MRI scans.An imbalance of serotonin and other brain chemicals are also present in people with GAD and other anxiety disorders.PersonalityPeople who are timid or pessimistic may be more likely to develop GAD.Some research also suggests a link between anxiety disorders and neuroticism, a personality trait wherein people view the world as unsafe and threatening.Life experiences and environmental factorsHaving a history of trauma, such as abuse or bereavement, may also contribute to GAD. In addition, having a chronic illness can increase the chance of developing an anxiety disorder, as can misusing addictive substances.SexEstimates suggest that females are twice as likely as males to have GAD.AgeGAD can affect anyone of any age. However, the chance of developing it seems to be highest “between childhood and middle age.”Treatment options for GAD depend on the severity of a person’s symptoms and the presence of any other conditions.Many people require a combination of treatments, such as attending psychotherapy and making lifestyle changes. Medications may also be necessary.Treatment options include:PsychotherapyWorking with a therapist can help people effectively manage their symptoms. Doctors and mental health professionals with often recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety, as it is both safe and effective.Studies suggest that CBT reduces worry in people with GAD, with the effects being equal to those of medications and more effective 6 months after treatment completion.Other types of therapy that show promise in treating GAD include mindfulness based therapies and acceptance and commitment therapy. This is a type of therapy that uses both acceptable and mindfulness techniques.MedicationIn some cases, a healthcare professional may recommend medication to help with the symptoms of GAD.Several types of medication can treat GAD, including:Antidepressants. Most commonly, doctors will prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors for GAD. These drugs can take several weeks to work.Buspirone. This is an antianxiety medication that reduces the physical symptoms of anxiety. Buspirone can take several weeks to take effect.Benzodiazepines. Occasionally, doctors may prescribe a benzodiazepine for short term anxiety relief. These medications are fast acting, but they are highly addictive and may not be suitable for people with a history of addiction.Lifestyle changesMaking lifestyle modifications can help people keep their worries and concerns under better control. Some examples of helpful changes to make include:exercising regularlyeating a healthful dietreducing exposure to stressorsprioritizing issues and eventspracticing mindfulness, meditation, or yogakeeping a journal to help identify anxiety triggers and coping strategiesavoiding alcohol and drugs, and limiting or avoiding nicotine or caffeinesetting a sleep schedule to ensure 7–9 hours sleep per nightAnxiousness is a normal part of life, but excessive anxiety or worry — especially if it interferes with everyday functioning or relationships with others — can indicate an anxiety disorder.GAD is common and highly treatable. Individuals who have concerns about their mental health should see a doctor or psychotherapist for treatment. The earlier a person seeks treatment, the better the outlook.
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Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) – causes, symptoms & treatment
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